I’m struck by the contrast between last week’s convention and this week’s. While the Republicans seemed to be plotting a national witch hunt (or would it be more honest to call it a lynching party?) the Democrats have spent a lot of time celebrating the American character. Those things that thrill me about living in the USA, the things that are closer to Christ’s teachings than the Evangelists will ever get, the ideal of equal rights, liberty, and cooperation—the Democrats celebrate our greatness and the GOP seem far more negative.
Cooperation? Yes, though we rarely tout it amongst our flashier ideals—human rights, liberty, equal opportunity, democracy, and public education—the root of America is its strength; and its strength comes from being united. Our unity is so much a part of us that we never bother to think about it—but it is there. Fifty-plus different sovereignties, a half-continent full of individual cultures and inter-relationships—all working (by and large) together and united in purpose.
Whether it’s world war, cold war, or cyberwar—no other nation has a chance against us—because we are united in purpose. And I add that ‘purpose’ for a reason. China, the Soviet Union—there are bigger plots of land and greater populations in the world—but none of them are united in purpose. In spite of our antipathy towards pinko commies and socialist hippies, America is the first great collective. The invention of this great socialist government that would serve no king and let no one determine their lives for them was a decision to band together, to share the dangers and the decisions to come—and to try (and we still try) to keep at bay the autocrats, the monopolizers, and the elitists.
Yes, we invented socialism. We collect everyone’s votes to decide our leaders and our laws. We enact laws that forbid division, advantage, and suppression. In many special new ways, Great Britain, France, Canada and other countries may have taken further steps on the road—nationalized health care, subsidizations of the labor force, etc. But we built the road. We differed from the Old World most substantially by having come into being post-Enlightenment. The divisions that tore Western Europe into tiny fiefdoms had no influence on the New World. Well, that’s not entirely correct—but the influence they did have on our continent was to flood it with the independent-thinkers, dissenters, and adventurous dreamers that the Old World had no use for.
So, yes, the USA was the world’s first hippie commune. We threw out the rules and wrote new ones, which included instructions to keep arms and to rise up and destroy the government if the day ever came that it no longer represented its people. For most of our past, we have proudly fought against pernicious influences in other parts of the world (with the notable exception of our civil war—the bloodiest war we ever fought, because we were on both sides!) And what with world wars against fascism and cold wars against soviets, we’ve been kept pretty busy. Ironically, now that the USA has no credible military threat to its security, we have begun to turn on each other.
Patton once said “Americans traditionally love to fight.” And if you see deployed troops on the news, they always display a spirit and an eagerness that seems to confirm Patton’s claim. Hell, you can go to a bar on Saturday night, most anywhere in the country, to see further proof. And I would not be idiotic enough to suggest that we find an excuse for some new, military adventuring outside our country. So how do we keep Americans fighting without them fighting each other? It is a serious problem—and this is not the first time it’s come up.
When there was an interval between the Korean War and the Viet Nam War, Kennedy called for a Peace Corp to conquer not the world, but the world’s poverty and disease. When former-President Jimmy Carter made a plea for involvement in Habitats for Humanity he was offering a fight to restless, good-hearted citizens everywhere. Kennedy and Carter were both leaders who recognized the American lust for challenge—and tried to channel it into positive, constructive efforts. And with job growth too slow to reach everyone without several years of patience and suffering, I hope that one of the things a re-elected Obama administration will work on is a channel for the energy of our young adults. They are the ones who are starting to take over from the grown-ups while also ‘finishing up’ their own maturation—they are easily diverted, particularly when unemployed and unhappy, to troublemaking and disaffection with society—and that is as grave a danger to our future as the unemployed, hungry poverty of today is a danger to our present.
You know, sometimes when I’m typing these ‘things’ (whatever they are) it occurs to me that there are plenty of people, Americans like myself, that would violently disagree with my ideas. And I know that my country protects my right to say what I think. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am just one person—that if I make someone else mad enough, that person could (unlikely as it sounds) decide to end me. And I would die for exercising Free Speech. But we don’t let that bother us in this country. I remember a news item about occupied Iraq telling of a newspaper publisher trying frantically to find an official to approve the paper’s copy before printing it.
The soldiers he spoke to had to reassure him over and over that he could not be punished for printing anything in the paper—facts, opinions, or otherwise. There was a kind of awe evident in the man when they finally convinced him that this was the way the USA did things—and that he (and his countrymen) were free to do likewise, at least as far as the coalition forces were concerned. The fact that many media sources in Iraq suffered later, at the hands of displeased fundamentalists, shows that the freedom of speech we enjoy here in the USA is an unheard of luxury in many other places on Earth. And it shows that even when a government restriction on speech is ended, that culture still retains the belief that words should be carefully measured—and controlled by those in authority. For us, the only worry is the random, enraged psychotic—for other places, free speech may be despised even by one’s friends and neighbors.
So, I guess what I’m saying is—Freedom and Unity are not just awesome aspects of our country—they are rare and precious in much of the rest of our world. And that is the reason I go so far as to accuse the GOP of treason concerning their last-four-year’s agenda—they have tried to make the whole country split up into sides and have at it without compromise. And that is not only an unprecedented shame of any political party, it is counter to everything this country stands for. Even if I didn’t think Obama was a great president, I’d be voting against the GOP in November—because they’ve been taken hostage by the Tea Party—the all-time winner of Party’s Dumbest (and most divisive) Platform.