Friday, March 26, 2010
In her article "The Selling of the American Soul'', journalist and award winning writer, Beth Arnold eloquently describes the pain that is now in the hearts of so many who truly love America and her people. The democratic process that made so many of us political junkies from the time that we first picked up a civics book has been hijacked by a hate driven and cancerous political rhetoric that is reminiscent of Hitler's Germany or, as Beth points out, Rwanda in the months leading up to the massacre. In her article, Beth draws parallels between the state of Arkansas' recent political history and the general change in the nation's political climate.
As Beth writes:
"I have been away from Arkansas for more than seven years now, and the political landscape has changed dramatically. I would like to remind my readers that in the early 1970's Arkansas had the most powerful delegation in Congress, with Senator John L. McClellan as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator William Fulbright as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Wilbur D. Mills as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee -- all Democrats and all strong leaders, no namby-pambies among them.
The only elected Republican from Arkansas in D.C. at the time was from the northwest corner of our state, where hard-core white survivalists The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord eventually lived and had their siege (in which a surrender was finally negotiated without a firefight) with Federal marshals in 1985. That was the only real Republican part of the state, and look who populated it.
Arkansas happily elected William Jefferson Clinton as Attorney General and then as governor for 12 years, loved Hillary (for the most part), and adopted little Chelsea as their own. But while Bill Clinton was happily governing Arkansas, a cancer was growing in American society. Propaganda was being manufactured that was sowing the seeds of hatred in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities.
Today, Arkansas has become a microcosm of what has happened to America at large. This change in the U.S. mindset was largely spearheaded by the grandfather of low-down dirty campaigns, Lee Atwater, whose lack of morality and public responsibility became the foundation for the autocratic attitudes and policies that President George W. Bush and his official team of liars built upon."
Beth also mentions Philip Gourevitch's book, "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda?", a book which I just happen to have on my bookshelf and in which I have the following passage marked:
"Of course, if you're some kind of archaeologist who digs this book up in the distant future, five or fifty or five hundred years from now, there's a chance that Rwanda will be a peaceful land of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; you may be planning your next holiday there, and the stories that you find in these pages will offer but a memorial backdrop, the way we now read stories of the genocide of the American Indians, or the days of slavery, or the accounts of the horrible crimes of humanity that marked Europe's progress, and think, as Conrad's Marlow said of England. 'We live in the flicker-- may it last as long as this old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday' "
Well friends when members of a political party are distributing maps that depict the opposition party's members in a rifle sight, the darkness is here today.
This is not the first time that darkness has threatened to smother the light that is the good in this country. in her book, "Healing the Soul of America," author Marianne Williamson recounts another time in American history, when the dark threat of violence tried to silence a generation.
The rebellious generation of the 1960s was ultimately quieted. Something happened then to take us off the streets and to keep us off. That something was violent threat and collective trauma, perpetrated on one generation and bequeathed to each one since as a legacy of those times.
The baby boomers were young at the time, and the young respond to dreams and visions. Those who carried aloft the most eloquent visions of a possible American during the 1960s were literally shot and killed in front of the eyes of the young who so adored them. For my generation, carrying a brilliant dream of a noble collective future meant putting oneself in the line of fire. From President Kennedy, to his brother Bobby, to Dr. King, to the students at Kent State, the primary articulators of positive change, of dreams of our democracy in this stunning age, were permanently silenced -- and the bullets that shot them psychically wounded us all. Millions of us became in many ways like the son of Robert Kennedy, who having watched his father murdered on television, got stoned and never recovered.
The invisible order that shot our heroes did not keep shooting, but began providing goods and services as quickly as possible to distract a grieving generation from our psychic pain. They did not leave us out of their conception of what America should be; quite the contrary, they used us a fodder, luring us into their planned environment of endless material consumption. We have been relatively quiet about anything meaningful ever since. Our leaders assassinated, our ranks dispersed, our generation received loud instructions, go home now, scatter, go to our rooms, and enjoy yourselves, with all the toys we sell you."
Yes, for two generations, we remained relatively quiet about anything meaningful, silent until the Bush administration pushed us to the precipice with two wars, numerous violations of the Constitution and a cruel indifference to the sufferings of American citizens devastated by a natural disaster. And when the sub-prime mortgage scandal, job losses and a skyrocketing cost of living began pushing the poor and the middle-class over the cliff, Americans en mass could remain silent no longer. They spoke up loud and clear and elected a relatively unknown Senator from Illinois as President of the United States.
As a child I watched the civil rights movement and anti-Viet Nam war protests every night on the television. I went to college in Boston in the years shortly after the desegregation of their public schools and experienced some of that bigotry first hand. In the years since, I've watched the end of apartheid in South Africa, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Rwandan massacre and war after war after war in the Middle East. Yet, through all of this I thought that we Americans, as a nation, and as a people, had learned just a few lessons from history about the destructiveness of hatred, bigotry and callousness towards the struggles of our fellow man.
The past decade of our nation's history has shown me that while there is still so much good in the American character there is a dark underbelly to our society that if left even the smallest of openings spreads through our society like a plague.
And in an attempt to win an election, and to hold on and/or gain power, the Republican Party opened the door to the greatest enemies that this country has and will ever face...
Not Al Qaeda, not radical Islam, not same sex marriage but the enemies of Fear & Hatred.
And the GOP was not alone in their efforts. Sadly, many of my fellow Christians on the evangelical far-right were cheering them on and even spreading the GOP talking points during Sunday morning sermons. This, my friends, is a topic I'll save for another post.
There is an African proverb which says, ""When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you." One day the Republican Party might figure this out. Hopefully, it will before someone uses one of Sarah Palin's maps.
Read Beth's article at HuffingtonPost