Are You For It or Against It? The Danger of Polarity in America.

Introduction by the Eshrink Editor: I am woefully behind on my blog duties. Eshrink wrote this blog more than two weeks ago. The subject arose from a discussion we were having about the polarity of this country (I think at the time, we were talking about the wearing of masks in that it seemed we had become divided as in “the mask people” and the “no-mask people”) and the idea that people seem to be fervently against something more than being fervently “for” something. He takes you step by step on what’s wrong, but brings us back to hope in the end…see the excerpt below.

In my most recent essay, I defined integrity as the value which incorporates the personal qualities we hold dear, all of which involve caring. The past few months have abruptly and severely tested the integrity of the American people, and with few exceptions they can be proud of their success. We have seen millions venture out with faces covered in order to protect others. We witnessed courage and dedication, of those directly and indirectly involved in caring for the sick. Thousands have volunteered to work in food banks. People of all colors, ethnicities, and genders in the hundreds of thousands have gone forth to demonstrate for racial equality.

 

The Values Series Led Me Here

While ruminating over this stuff about values, it occurred to me that as a society, we seem to be more preoccupied with what we are against than what we are for. Such a position presents a major impediment to negotiation and is likely to provoke anger. This appears to be the case with our two houses of Congress, in which the most recent bill proposed by the house was promised by McConnell to be “dead on arrival” in the senate, hardly an invitation to look for common ground. Of course, what the senate proposes is not likely to be greeted with open arms by the house either. Consequently; the process of negotiation won’t happen. Perhaps John Adams had it right in his assessment of the two-party system. But then I continue to be amazed at the wisdom of those old guys and in particular of their ability to foresee the problems involved in preserving what they had built.

John Adams Quote that warns about the problems with a 2 party system

 

COVID-19

There is little good news to be found today. The death toll from the corona virus has now passed 115,000, yet these numbers do not tell the whole story. Nearly all of these souls died alone, and isolated from family. Traditional measures used to facilitate grieving have been restricted due to the pandemic. Well over 40 million survivors have filed for unemployment with untold numbers standing in line to follow suit. The United States, touted as the most advanced and prosperous nation in the world, has now achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the world leader in such horrific numbers. With only 4.2% of the world’s population, the United States has now registered over 25% of the deaths due to COVID-19, yet our President heaps praises on himself for having done a great job in managing the pandemic. We were warned for decades that such a pandemic was inevitable, yet we were woefully unprepared, and even worse at exercising any control over it.

 

GEORGE FLOYD

If that were not enough, we now find ourselves witnessing the murder of one of our citizens by one sworn to protect us. There was universal outrage and sadness. Peaceful demonstrations protesting police brutality and injustice soon became hate filled with wanton destruction throughout the land. Throughout history, our most successful civilian defenders of human rights have used peaceful protests as their weapons of choice. Ghandhi and Martin Luther King were the most recent initiators of that strategy, but more than 2500 years ago Buddha said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”


Complicit Passivity

It is obvious that we screwed up big time in leaving ourselves so vulnerable, and I emphasize the word “we” for we have been complicit by our passivity in not making ourselves aware of what our elective representatives are doing or neglecting to do. The politicians have protected us from injury from a falling sky by never admitting that they screwed up, but in spite of years of warnings by our scientists, we have been very poor stewards of our environment thereby setting the stage for a catastrophic pandemic. In like fashion, since its beginning, we have suffered from a lack of leadership in dealing with issues of civil rights and equal justice under the law.

 

I’m Against It

Although there is a long history of disagreement between republicans and democrats, in the past, the focus was to a large extent on issues. For example, when a Democratic President pushed through a Civil Rights Bill, the south quickly switched to the party of Lincoln and those in the North who mostly supported the legislation became Democrats. The once solidly democratic south became rabidly republican in less time than it takes to say “back of the bus.”

 

Then came the abortion issue, which proved to be even more divisive, since for many, it involved strongly-held religious beliefs. Both these issues were very personal to large segments of the populace and consequently divisive.


Although not so overt as the abortion rights ruling, civil rights issues continue to smolder, and in the past few days have reared their ugly heads again. Some Christians see abortion as murder and therefore feel obligated to protest. This has led to episodes of intimidation, name calling and even violence. There have been other times in our history when issues have been divisive, e.g. prohibition, women’s suffrage, Vietnam, and worst of all a Civil War, all from which we have largely recovered. The current climate of personal animus continues to deepen with political discourse routinely including personal insults and character assassination.


Follow the Money

It has been said that in order to follow most things in politics one must follow the money, and in our last presidential election there was a lot to follow. According to open secrets.org, 5.6 billion dollars was spent on the presidential and congressional election campaigns of 2016. In addition to that, it is estimated that Mr. Trump received an additional 5 billion dollars of free time on the networks by being TV savvy, thereby proving that outrageousness sells. Ten years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech and since then there has been a lot of such speech so that in the coming election it is expected the ante will be increased even more.


The foregoing factors, along with research indicating that negative campaigning is more effective than a focus on issues, resulted in personal attacks becoming the norm. The effectiveness of this strategy is demonstrated by its effect on Hillary Clinton whose approval dived from 71% in 2011 to 43% in 2016. See this link for more info. There was much anecdotal information that many of the votes for Trump were actually due to an intense dislike for Clinton, a modern-day version of the ancient proverb: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”


Such a political orientation can be dangerous, for it may lead to decisions overly influenced by emotions. The current pandemic is the latest example in which political orientation seems to override facts. I have been totally amazed to see the response to this virus, which proposes a threat to all of us to be viewed differently depending on party affiliation. Although the same facts are available to everyone, we face the same enemy, and we are all equally at-risk, responses differ largely along party lines.


Previous Assaults on Our Country

During my lifetime, I have witnessed two previous dramatic assaults on this country, every detail of which I remember in vivid detail. The first was The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which resulted in a resounding and immediate flourish of patriotic fervor with unbounded support for the government. Later, the destruction of the World Trade Center produced a similar reaction. In both these instances, there was indeed a sense that we really were “all in this together.” The focus was on what could be done and how to do it. Who to blame or what could have been done to prevent these disasters were put aside to be debated at a later time.


This pandemic is an equal opportunity threat not only to our country but to the whole world. Granted, there is much to complain about and I have been among the chief complainers. Nevertheless, there is much of which we can be proud. Although there have been instances of profiteering by the usual group of pathetically twisted individuals, they are an insignificant minority. We have witnessed with awe those hundreds of thousands of ordinary people go forth without weapons to courageously battle an unseen foe, while others have risked their lives in order to provide the means which allow the rest of us to remain safely tucked away in our homes.


Hope Springs Eternal…

In 1732, Alexander Pope wrote: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and in spite or perhaps because of, all the potentially catastrophic events confronting us, there are signs that such hope may now be springing forth. Hope is the great motivator. It adds zest. It welcomes challenge and allows big dreams. Without hope, life lacks meaning. Indeed, hopelessness is frequently associated with suicidal ideation, and there has been a well-documented increase in the rates of depression and suicide in the past few years. It is also true that we have not seen a lot of good news or optimism about the future of ourselves or our planet, and as a consequence it appears to me that we have become focused on all those things we are against with little thought as to what we are for.


You may be thinking “what in the world is hopeful about rioting, looting, massive unemployment, climate change, pollution, racism, and thousands of deaths from a worldwide pandemic that is hopeful.” A couple of nights ago, I stayed up very late mesmerized while watching the demonstrations which mostly featured lawlessness fueled by hatred, greed and disrespect. I went to bed feeling very sad and asking myself the age-old question, what is happening to my country, and does anyone give a damn? I only knew that I was against whatever was going on.


The Helpers

The next morning, I awakened to a view of people who had brought their own shovels and brooms to begin cleaning up the broken glass and debris left by the rioters. Since the looters had retired for the day and there was no sensational news available, the TV crew interviewed some of these kind souls who told of how disheartened they were to see their peaceful demonstrations marred by hoodlums, and how they had tried to stop them. Since then, I have been heartened to hear stories of how many of those charged with law enforcement have been able to show respect for the demonstrators and their cause. They learned that in many instances kneeling with them was more effective than pepper spray. It appears to me that the witnessing of an actual murder on nationwide TV has had a significant impact as witnessed by the large number of white folks who join in the demonstrations. It is all enough to give hope that hundreds of years of racial injustice may finally end.


Integrity and Us

In my most recent essay, I defined integrity as the value which incorporates the personal qualities we hold dear, all of which involve caring. The past few months have abruptly and severely tested the integrity of the American people, and with few exceptions they can be proud of their success. We have seen millions venture out with faces covered in order to protect others. We witnessed courage and dedication, of those directly and indirectly involved in caring for the sick. Thousands have volunteered to work in food banks. People of all colors, ethnicities, and genders in the hundreds of thousands have gone forth to demonstrate for racial equality.


Granted, there has been much anger and even hatred demonstrated, but our ideals are not lost. The integrity of the average guy gives me hope that problems can be solved and love will take care of the hatred for as the good book says: THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE.

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