Sunday, May 21, 2006


State of what union ...

I just don’t know where the anger is coming from, but I find it deeply disturbing. And it’s not just that I am old. I feel some of it and am oh so tempted by it whenever I wade into the barroom brawl that is blog discourse, or talk radio or attack TV, or the letters page or anonymous opinion page of a newspaper.
Everybody is pissed off. And leadership of all stripes hardly bothers to cloak their behavior to mask appeals crafted to manipulate, stoke and fan the anger. Don’t even bother to pander to a position. Just raise the sword and wade in, playing the hate card at the top of their lungs at every turn.
We’re all familiar with the “race card.” Red or blue, you take the debate on whatever subject to a safe room where a critic is either a racist or a panderer. This allows you to ratchet up the volume, swing wildly from the heels from your morally superior ground – and avoid the crux of the matter. Not to say that some are not racist. Or that some are not blinded by simplistic sympathies. It’s rarely that cut-and-dried. But it’s always easier to draw on the anger, to rely on emotion rather than reason.
The race card today comes in a full deck – there’s one for just about any topic, any point of view, any skin coloring, any ethnicity, any shade of faith. You can’t disagree with anyone anymore and just agree to disagree, or debate hard and long drawing on facts and ideals to try to persuade – and shake your head and wonder when you fall short of that. No, every bullet in the clip must be expended, every sleeper hold employed, every ounce of reserve expended and if it does not end in rancor and expletive, the soldier of righteousness has failed to give his all. Wingnut. Moonbat. Liberal. Facist. Socialist. Pig.
The venom in what passes for a discussion feeds on itself, driving the opponent to respond in kind – and to begin every engagement with mortal combat in mind. Because this is war, the winner takes all the spoils and winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing. Our deepest values as a nation, the very core of our “way of life,” the future freedom or slavery of our children is on the table with each and every exchange.
And God help the referee, anyone who seeks to take the middle, to bring the Yangs and Comms together to find a solution even an inch beyond the purity of the ground each has staked, barricaded and vowed to defend to the last breath. If you even try to wade through the anger and vitriol to weigh the points, to assess both the value and integrity of the supporting evidence, and then show the slightest leaning in one direction or the other, you are thrown to the wolves by whichever side suspected you shared their worldview. Admitting to error is tantamount to treason – or cowardice.
And as each becomes more and more hardened, it becomes ever more impossible for them to fathom how others could possibly see any issue differently. So there must be ulterior motives at work, shadowy figures in play. If we lose – a debate, an election – it must be fixed. The Democrats must be sneaking in people not qualified to vote, marching in legions of the undead with a skeletal grip on ballots to stuff. The Republicans must be rigging the machines. Can’t be an honest verdict.
And now all this anger turns to immigration. Foreigners. Subversives intent not only on seizing our jobs, our homes and our churches, but our heritage – our very culture. What a mistake they made in parading around with Mexican flags and demanding “rights.” Oh yeah? You want to talk about this problem? Guess what? You have no rights. And get the f### out. Now.
Has this been a problem for quite a while? Yup. Have we collectively aided and abetted illegal immigration with easy employment in our businesses and backyards? Yup. Have we underfunded border enforcement for decades, winking at the thousands ignoring our laws? Yup, both Red and Blue. Have we looked the other way while unscrupulous people prayed on this growing underculture, charging huge rents for hovels where families slept and cooked in shifts, reaped usurious premiums on payday loans and wire transfers, or took the greenbacks in thick stacks in exchange for cards, papers and licenses forged or fraudulently issued? Indeed. Is this all a disgrace? Yeah. Do we need to set it right? Yes.
But where is the sudden firestorm of hatred and anger coming from? Has the sight of foreign flags, mistreated flags and raised fists hit a nerve? Yeah, I think those excesses and miscalculations upset a broad spectrum of Americans, me included. But I ask you: Isn’t the intensity of this a little over the top? Aren’t we channeling a lot of frustration and anger at a rather helpless horde of people – yes people – who really yearn to embrace the very values we fear they come to undermine?
Many of us find we are treading water on wages, some sense a drift toward the falls of debt, with no real hope of college for kids, a retirement to anything other than subsistence living. And that assumes the government lives up to the compact of Social Security we all thought we secured with 40 years of payroll deductions. And then there is the inexorable march of gas, and current and all else tied to oil, and we are powerless to alter that too.
We still harbor great anger at 9/11, and the verbal barbs from abroad as we strive to confront that evil, our frustration growing as we inch along a grudging path strewn with blood and treasure.
And so we finally find something that allows us all to be a tough guy, finally provides a target we can rain down on with all our fury, all our righteousness. We can build a wall, send an army, unleash the vigilantes and hook up the southbound trains. And by God we can get this done, we can follow through right to the end with this because it all is within our control. No U.N., no Frenchified considerations, no blurring of who’s a good Muslim and who’s trying to kill us. And you’re either with us or against us. It’s a pure play.
And we’ll make November a referendum on this – and this alone. If you let us.
I hope our reservoir of anger is drained by then, that our better angels can again be heard by then. I pray that this transpires for I fear this is the only force with any hope of making this happen.
Because we can do all of this, or some of this and a little of that, and solve this issue too, just as we have met each challenge in its turn for 250 years. As one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice – for all. If that pledge we ask our children to recite with hand over heart still matters – if that phrasing is still anything more than a string of words similar to this one:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman
with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning,
and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome;
her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she with silent lips.
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Go ahead. Turn out that light. After all, it’s French.

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