One Nation, _____ ____, Indivisible

No, this is not about whether or not the words “under God” should be included when saying the Pledge of Allegiance; nor is it about saying the Pledge at all.  It’s that word “indivisible” that bothers me.  Indivisible.  It means that it cannot be divided.  For instance, numbers are indivisible by zero.  You can’t do it, at least not if you understand math.

If you want to understand just how indivisible we are NOT, about all you have to do is turn on the news, pick up a newspaper, or simply listen to the people in the booth next to you when you go out to eat.  We are about the most divided society that mankind has ever known in more ways than most of us are even aware of. The thought process essentially recognizes that there are only two types of people – them and us.  Of course, just who “them” are and just who “us” is changes frequently, depending upon who is talking about whom.

There are, of course, the old standby juxtapositions. The black-white, citizen-immigrant, man-woman, young-old divisions are still around, and are still as lively as ever, though the people who hold these views typically have come up with better ways of disguising their disgust for the “other side.” The Klan long ago tossed their white robes and donned business suits. Men don’t keep women barefoot and pregnant anymore. they don’t have to. Instead, they carefully guard those glass ceilings at the corporate level, and work hard to keep women “in their place” by instituting some very crafty policies in the health insurance debate (think “transvaginal probe). We don’t openly discriminate against people who look and speak “different.” We “embrace diversity” and pass laws that punish the bejesus out of employers who hire “illegals” so that they don’t want to hire anyone who even LOOKS like they might not be here legally. We’re good.

Today we have a whole new slate of issues that make us something other than “indivisible.” Toss into the mix the pro-life vs pro-choice argument, the alternative energy vs drill baby drill conflict, the pro-union vs anti-union fight, the gun control vs 2nd Amendment advocates conflict, the red state vs blue state competition, and on and on. And on. And on. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight, and to make matters worse, there is very little compromising going on anymore. It’s not about finding common ground anymore. It’s about digging in. It’s about doubling down. It’s about demonizing the other side. And it’s about showing your teeth to anyone on your side that even suggests compromise or working with the other side.

Maybe “divided” no longer describes what is going on in our society. We are diced, cut apart from each other in a million different ways into smaller and smaller segments of the society we claim to be. We might be divided. We might be diced. But the one thing we are definitely not is indivisible.

The National Noise

Any Minnesota Vikings fan will tell ya – if your team is coming to the Metrodome to play the Vikings, you better bring your hearing protection with you.  If your team even THINKS it is going to win, the volume in the Metrodome will make a hard-rock-mosh-pit concert sound like honeybees landing on flowers in springtime.  The purpose of this escalation of sound, of course, is to prevent the other team from communicating, and possibly winning the game.  It’s hard to run a play when no one on your team can hear the quarterback.  There are, however,  unintended consequences as well.  This kind of noise makes it harder for the beer man to hear you place your order, and you might end up with a Coke Zero, or worse.  The announcer’s words no doubt will be lost in the thunder.  Worse of all, with all of that noise, someone from your own defensive team might make a misstep because they can’t hear the opposing quarterback, resulting in the obligatory 5-yard penalty and that dreaded first down.  Noise swings both ways.

The national debate in a democracy is noisy by design.  It’s SUPPOSED to be noisy.  That is how we hash out our differences and come to a consensus about what direction our country should take.  Our country has always been noisy about national policy, whether it was town criers and public debate in the town hall between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, or protesters in the streets against the Vietnam War sticking flowers down the rifle barrels of the National Guard soldiers dispatched to maintain order.  We engaged each other and  haggled things out over civil rights, the environment, you-name-it.  It got loud, real loud, and sometimes even came to blows.  It wasn’t always pretty, and sometimes resulted in people getting physically hurt, if not killed.  People were called names, and some of them not very nice ones.  Other people were blacklisted, or ridiculed, or set up to be publicly discredited.  These were all techniques that one side used against the other.  Sometimes compromises were reached, and deals were struck.  Other times one side just plain won, winner-take-all.  And still other times, things were just left hanging, a problem kicked down the road for another generation to solve.

That seems like a million years ago now.  Today the national noise is, well, just noise, and one side seems to be using it as a sort of Mohammed Ali-esque “rope-a-dope” technique in place of having real solutions to anything.  That would be the the GOP, the conservatives, or the new kids on the block, the Libertarians.  If the topic of gun control is brought up, the noise level immediately reaches Metrodome levels with a stream of predictable words and phrases defending their interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, the stale cliche that guns don’t kill people, and with some on the right, a near hysterical pitch that Barack Obama is going to come knocking on your door to take your gun away.

Start talking about education with someone on the political right, and you are likely to hear, at about 110 decibels, how their taxpayer dollars are being wasted by the teachers union, how the kids today can’t read or speak English, and how public education has become a financial black hole that we keep “throwing money at.”  They want teachers to be at-will employees who can be dismissed for any or no reason, subject of course to their coaching record or, perhaps more cynically, their voting record.  If the fact that some kids come from poor homes and bad backgrounds is brought up, the rope-a-dope technique comes out, with an admonition to fix it and fix it fast.  We don’t want to be bothered with details like poverty, illiteracy in the home, immigrants who don’t speak English, or crime.  Eliminate tenure and the teachers union they say, and all will be well in the schools.  None of them teach.  None of them ever have.  None of them have ever even considered it.  Claiming to know all about schools because you attended one is like claiming to know all about medicine because you had your appendix out.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift.  I have a co-worker, who every time I tell her something she doesn’t want to know, puts her fingers in her ears and says la-la-la-la-la.  This is the modus operandi of the political right on a national level.  They just keep talking right on through whatever topic is being discussed, sometimes without even stopping to breathe.  I blame Fox News for this.  It was never this way until Fox News came on the air and started their 24/7 rant against the political left in the sheep’s clothing of “fair and balanced.”  I don’t have to listen to Sean Hannity.  I hear him in every conservative I attempt to discuss politics with.  The GOP has become a party of parrots and puppets, fed their daily lines from the soup kitchen of ideas at Fox News.

I hope this stops soon.  I miss sparring with people from the conservative side of the planet.  I miss hearing their original ideas and looking for common ground.  I hate you, Fox News, for taking the fun of national debate away from us, and anesthetizing my friends on the right with your narcotic-like neo-conservativism.

A New Kind of Gun Owner

If you have watched the news at all in the past month or so, you have probably seen a clip or two regarding the push for gun control, arming teachers in the classroom, and a whole host of gun-related stories regarding safety, ownership, and the 2nd Amendment.  You see the usual arguments being made about our right to hunt, target shoot, and keep handguns in our homes for personal protection.

Still, there seems to be something darker going on.  The people I have seen on TV aren’t the usual deer hunters in their blaze orange jackets sporting their classic Winchester 30.30 lever action deer rifle.  It’s not your local NRA rifle safety instructor.  It’s not a group of people who like to sit in the weeds and shoot at ducks, their black lab in tow.  These guys are wearing military camouflage and are sporting rapid-fire assault rifles with high-capacity magazines that would rival most military-issued weapons.  The people who I see taking a strong stance against any reasonable kind of gun control cite being able to defend themselves from the government as a primary reason.  Seriously?  Like your AR-15 is going to fend off a SWAT team from the ATF that has armored personnel carriers, aerial assault teams, grenade launchers, and the like?  Anyone believing that nonsense might want to Google the Branch Davidians and see how they fared.  Where is this new brand of gun advocacy coming from?

Misplaced anger, that’s where.

More and more people feel they have less control over the events that shape their lives, and more and more the people that actually make the decisions are far removed from our daily lives.  You have no way to contact them, let alone influence them.  Your doctor prescribes a certain medication, and when you present it to your pharmacist, it is declined because someone somewhere made the decision that your health insurance doesn’t cover that one.  You have a number you can call, but you know where that will go – you will talk to someone who will repeat the company line, you’ll receive some letter in the mail that explains why you can’t have that medication, and you are left to either pay for it yourself, or go without.  You’re angry, and there isn’t even anyone to be angry at.

You apply for a credit card, and a few days after you apply, you receive a letter saying that  your application was declined.  The letter says that they looked at your credit report, and that was the reason it was declined.   You are informed that you can order a copy of your credit report if you call the number given on the letter.  Again, some nameless, faceless person has made a decision that impacts your life.  There is no one to talk to, no one to appeal the decision to.  Your anger simmers.

More and more, people are expected to apply for jobs online.  Nameless, faceless people review your materials.  Sometimes you hear back.  A lot of the time you don’t.  Sometimes you don’t even know if they received your materials.  On the chance that you are actually called for an interview, there is a good chance that you will be given some type of personality test that asks bizarre quasi-psychoanalytical questions, and based on this, again someone you never see or talk to will make the decision without you even knowing the reason why you did or didn’t get the job.

The next time you fill up your gas tank and the price is higher, go ahead and ask the person behind the counter why the price is higher than it was before.  They won’t know.  Neither will the owner of the store.  You will never really know why you ended up paying more than before.  You are just expected to pay it, or do without.  Suck it up, ya know?

I have yet to meet anyone who can tell me exactly how a person’s credit score is calculated.  I hear general, vague descriptions, but that’s it.  It’s called your FICA score.  FICA stands for Fair Isaac.  Who’s Isaac, and how do you know he’s fair if you don’t even know who he is?  And yet that credit score that they stamp on you will influence the interest rate you get on loans (or if you even get a loan), whether you can rent an apartment, qualify to buy a car on credit, and a whole host of things.  Most people don’t know their credit score.  No one knows how it is calculated.  Except Fair Isaac.  And no one knows who he is.

See where I’m going with this?  People are fed up with this nameless, faceless group of people influencing our lives, usually for the worse.  Our quality of life in this country has been steadily eroding for quite a few years now, and no one really knows who to blame.  So we blame the government, as though they have some control over it.  They don’t.  And people are getting angry and fearful.  Owning a gun has become more a symbol of freedom to these people than it is anything else.  It is their own little protest over the lack of control they have over their lives.  They talk loudly, and put on a lot of bravado.  They don’t have any real intention of using their assault rifle. Not really.

But that guy who was bullied in school, and keeps mostly to himself now?  He does.

 

 

Take the Pledge…

Aside

I saw a post on Facebook today that asked people to comment on whether or not they felt children should be made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school.  Out of curiosity, I took a look at the comments, and felt a little dismayed at what I saw.  By a ratio of about 10:1, the respondents thought that children should be made to do this.  I didn’t come across any comments that offered much of an explanation, other than that children need to be made to be patriotic, and this would be a good method to make sure that happens.

First of all, before I get too far into this, let me say right out that I am patriotic.  I served in the U.S. Army.  I pay taxes.  I vote.  I have worked all my life.  I’ve had a traffic ticket or two, but otherwise I have been pretty much a law-abiding citizen.  I only throw this out there so that those of you who equate criticism of our goverment with being unpatriotic don’t call me a communist and throw garbage on my lawn.  I love our country.  I really do.  I’m pretty crazy about our planet as a whole.  Some of the people on it, not so much, but for the most part I like people too.

Back to the topic at hand – making students say the Pledge of Allegiance.  I’m against it.  There.  I said it.  Let me explain why.

I have been teaching 26 years, and when you add my 12 years of grade school and high school into the mix, I have been in our school system for 38 years.  I’ve seen the Pledge recited a few times.  I’ve said it a few times myself.  It’s not in and of itself such a bad thing to say, if you understand what you are saying, and you mean it.  But I suspect that is not the case for most school children that would be made to do this.

One reason I am opposed to forcing kids to recite this is that most young children in the early years of school have no idea what the words “allegiance” or “republic” even mean.  Go ahead and ask one.  Even if they can recite some dictionary-style definition, they still have no idea what either one really means.  My hunch is that a lot of adults would struggle with it too.  Why would we want our children to learn to blindly parrot words that they do not understand simply to please an authority figure?  Expecting kids to become patriotic by reciting a pledge they don’t understand makes about as much sense as expecting kids to become religious by repeating prayers they don’t understand.  Oops.  Did I say that?  And just for the record, the original Pledge did not have the words “under God” in it.  That was added in 1954 during the height of our government’s fear of the godless dreaded red menace, the Soviet Union.

A second reason I am opposed to it is the claim that reciting it will make our kids more patriotic. Really?  And just what does “patriotic” mean?  Silly question, right?  Does being patriotic mean being pro-life?  How about being anti-gay marriage?  Does being patriotic mean you shop at Walmart and watch Fox News?  Does it mean serving in the military, or paying taxes on all the money you don’t offshore to Switzerland or the Cayman Islands?  Do you have to own a handgun or an assault rifle to be patriotic?  Do you have to drive a Chevy, Ford or Chrysler to be patriotic?

I know, I know.  Being patriotic just means that you love your country.  But what does THAT mean?  How can you say you love your country when most of the things you buy at Walmart are made in China?  How can you say you love your country when you go to extraordinary means to avoid paying the taxes that keep our country running?  Can you truly say you are patriotic if you avoid military service during a time of war by doing missionary work for your church or by having your well-connected dad pull strings to keep you out of harm’s way?  Can you say you love your country when you pollute the air and water and ravage the land for profit?

Honestly, I think it would serve our children better if we dispensed completely with the mindless mouthing of the Pledge.  It’s not doing what we want it to anyway.  I think our children would be much better served if we adults showed them how to get along, how to cooperate with each other for the common good, and showed them what loving and appreciating each other looks like, in real life, in real time, every day.

 

 

The tension

There is little about the current state of our federal government that should surprise anyone who studies history.  The two sides in this debate, are not terribly unlike those of earlier debates at the federal level.

John Adams.  Remember him?  He was so freaked out at the prospect of being a 1-term president (gawd, I can just hear Michele Bachmann chanting that) that he put into place the Alien and Sedition Acts.  These acts, much like the gerrymandering that went on in Wisconsin this past year, were designed to keep the people in power, in power.  It made it impossible for people who had just arrived in the United States to vote (can we see your birth certificate, señor?) and it made it illegal to criticize the president.  While we have not made it illegal to criticize the president, we have made it very uncomfortable to criticize “the system.”  If you criticize “the system” by say, participating in the Occupy Movement, you might find yourself pepper sprayed, beaten, and your activities monitored.

In the years to follow, the conservatives of their times found themselves supporting slavery, states rights and nullification.  They felt that Native Americans needed to get out of the way of progress, and that women were better off not being involved in politics (or any other activity that made being barefoot and pregnant more difficult).  In the early 1900′s they hated the trust busting and the conservation movement.  They loved the freewheeling, unregulated stock trading of the 1920′s, and they called FDR a “socialist” (where have we heard THAT recently?).  Conservatives of the 1950′s looked for communists in Congress, not unlike the kind of wild speculation offered recently by Michele Bachmann.  They supported the Vietnam War, no matter how discredited it had become.  They called the protestors against this war “traitors” and UnAmerican,” in much the same way we heard those same criticisms ironically directed at our own president.  They were OK with Watergate and what Nixon hoped to achieve through it.  The redneck band Lynard Skynard sang “Watergate doesn’t bother me, does your conscience bother you?”

Liberals, on the other hand, lined up on the opposite side of these issues.  They voted for Thomas Jefferson and against John Adams.  They worked for the abolition of slavery and for woman suffrage.  They exposed the atrocities perpetrated against Native Americans.  They supported the breaking up of large monopolies and the conservation of our natural resources.  After the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover triumvirate crashed our economy, they elected FDR to bail us out.  They stood up for those who were persecuted during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950′s, and took to the streets to protest the unjust war in Vietnam.  They exposed Nixon and the undermining of the Constitution he and like-minded individuals tried to do.

Today we see those same tensions at play.  The conservatives work tirelessly to protect the privileges of the privileged.  They denounce the middle class as leeches who want entitlements.  They used code words for women and African-Americans.  They cheat at elections by gerrymandering, by making it more difficult for the underclass to vote (think Alien and Sedition Acts), and by running fake Democrats in primaries.  They want to outlaw abortions in all cases, and to make birth control more difficult to obtain.  Some have defended the reproductive rights of rapists.  They oppose gay marriage, vociferously.  They support people to own assault rifles, and bristle at any attempts to control them.  They keep pointing backward to “the good old days.”

Liberals and progressives work tirelessly for worker rights, higher pay, and for a democratic workplace.  They embrace diversity, as evidenced by the rainbow of faces that could be seen in the audience of the Democratic Convention.  They work to expand voting rights, and to make it easier to vote, not harder.  They stand by a woman’s right to choose, and work to make birth control easily available to all who want it so that abortions are not needed.  They embrace their slogan “forward.”

Liberalism has always been the way of the future, and we liberals and progressives have always had to drag the conservatives kicking and screaming, into the future.  So it was yesteryear, and so it is today.