Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The Morning After
I wasn't going to watch. I wasn't going to stay up. But I did. I didn't reach for the light cord on my bedside lamp until after the early-morning victory speech in Chicago. I was following along on Facebook, too--some FB friends doing the equivalent of fist-bumping in cyberspace, others forecasting the decline of Western civilization. Emotions have run high, to say the least.
As a lifelong Democrat, I know how it feels on The Dark Mornings After. I voted for Hubert Humphrey. And George McGovern. And Jimmy Carter. And Walter Mondale. And Michael Dukakis. And Al Gore. And John Kerry. Losers all on those Dark Wednesday Mornings of my life. It wasn't a good feeling. The 2000 election nearly drove me over the precipice.
It's tempting for winners to gloat, for losers to grouse. That's true throughout our lives--from those halcyon days of Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders to, well, professional sports ... and presidential politics.
I'll say, though, that we truly are a divided country right now--a division that's exacerbated by the polarized media. If all you watch is MSNBC or Fox, pretty much you're hearing only things you already agree with. That's comforting. But it's also dangerous. Listening only to the extremes can make you an extremist.
There are many former students of mine--and family members--who are Republicans. And I love them. I don't understand their politics--nor do they understand mine--but I can't help, and don't want to help, what my heart tells me about them. They are not evil. They are not fascists. And I would hope that they feel the same about me: Their old teacher, their cousin and nephew, is not a radical who wants to destroy the American Way. No, but I do want to broaden the American Way, not narrow it.
I think the election shows, too, that racism--what writer Russell Banks called "the original sin at our inception"--remains an open wound on the soul of the country. Consider: The South used to be solidly Democratic ("the Solid South")--until 1948 when the Democrats put a Civil Rights plank in their platform. Southern delegations walked out of the convention, and since then the South has been solidly Republican. Just think about it. The last time I looked, President Obama got less than 40% of the white vote. And virtually all of the African American vote.
Here's a link to that 1948 plank--and you will see that the GOP had a fairly generous one, too. But the Republicans saw their chance to become a majority party--opened their arms to the angry Southern Democrats--softened their pro-equality positions. (Link)
We can't disregard the personal animus so many people feel against President Obama. I'm pretty certain that if Barack Hussein Obama were white and named Abraham Flag Rushmore, his story would be widely regarded as a shining instance of the American Dream. The little boy who dreamed, who worked hard, who became President.
Instead--from the beginning--there have been efforts--covert and overt--to portray him as an Outsider--not one of "us." The ludicrous refusal to accept his birth records. The determined efforts to portray him as a Socialist--or even farther to the Left. (Actually, he's far too moderate for me!) The insistence that he is a crypto-Muslim hoping to replace the Constitution with sharia law. That he wants to destroy entrepreneurs. The dark conspiracy theories. And on and on.
One of the parts of the Constitution we don't talk enough about, I think, is the Preamble. Look at it:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The phrase we too often ignore is promote the general Welfare. Among the most fundamental functions of the government, in other words (according to our own Constitution), is to promote the general welfare. The Oxford English Dictionary defines welfare like this:
The state or condition of doing or being well; good fortune, happiness, or well-being (of a person, community, or thing); thriving or successful progress in life, prosperity.
I've always believed this--that one job--one important job--of the government is to help folks who need help--to promote everyone's welfare. To make sure, for example, that every kid has a chance. This is one of the reasons I went into teaching, one of the reasons I stayed in teaching for forty-five years. I wanted to help kids.
And let me quit with this: I want to live in a country where we help one another--not in a social Darwinist, dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest state where those with a huge head start in life reap the harvest and leave the less fortunate to glean. I want to live in a country that really believes that among its government's principal missions is ... to promote the general welfare. To make sure everyone has a chance, a good chance--an equal chance--to pursue a dream, to climb the ladder into Candy Land.