I wish I could say that this post would answer all our questions plaguing our country. It won’t. What this post hopefully will offer is a design for unifying our legislative and ideological process more efficiently. It is neither complicated nor particularly innovative. It is simply an effective measure toward success.
Currently, when we approach an issue in America, we assume that the “other” party, which ever party one considers his “other,” or group or organization will have the wrong answer. We are so incredibly certain about our correctness at every turn. We have no intention of discovering new information; we simply want people to agree with us. If they don’t, they are necessarily wrong and simply require education. We walk in with a fight in our hearts. We automatically presume we know best. The problem is that if we begin from that standpoint, we are the ones who are instantly wrong.
If we want harmonious and constructive work to begin in earnest in America, we must begin by walking in with five questions:
1. How do we each define the issue in front of us?
2. Can we agree not to move toward a resolution until we are all satisfied with the definition of the issue?
3. Do we understand that no one person or group is going to get everything he or she wants in the resolution?
4. How do we work together to resolve this issue in a manner that would benefit the greatest number of Americans?
5. What are your ideas? I am willing to listen to you fully, then thoughtfully consider them before responding graciously.
If we start here, then we can reduce the polarization in this country. Any adamant statement in the process that starts with, “Well, you/your party did this…” is not effective. It is counterproductive toward future work together. It brings the issue into the past and necessarily demands that the focus on the work in the present be forgotten.
If we want unity and creativity to move the process forward, we must start by listening, not talking. When I was a boy, my father insisted that my brother, David, and I learn this poem:
“A wise old owl lived in an oak.
The more he saw, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why can’t we all be like this wise old bird?”
Good guidance for a difficult time, I’d say. If we approach one another with a willingness to listen, to understand that others have differing views than we do that do not make them wrong or bad, then we can build something great together. Until that time arrives, we will continue to watch the chasm between our fellow citizens widen and deepen. If that happens, all of us lose, no matter how “right” we thought we were in the first place.
We have seen the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 pass in the both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president of the United States that allows for indefinite detention of American citizens without habeas corpus. We have seen basic human rights ignored and denied by our fellow Americans through bans on gay marriage. We have seen basic health care and housing denied to our population because they haven’t the money to care for themselves. We have seen corporations evolve into entities that are considered individuals deserving rights. What this all means is that we have forgotten who we are. Any society, Roman, Ottoman, Egyptian, or any other, that forgets what it is, is doomed to reduction into oblivion so that something more aware and healthier can take its place.
When we removed ourselves from under the rule of King George III of Great Britain, we codified several facets of the lives we wanted into two documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
United States of America Declaration of Independence
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Most people discuss the “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” part of this sentence. A word at the beginning is much more intriguing – “self-evident.” They could have used the word “clear,” or perhaps “obvious,” but they chose “self-evident” in this beautifully-crafted statement. The authors made it clear that we as individuals are supposed to assume that all members of our society are equal and deserve the same treatment and benefits as every other citizen in our country. These rights are not issued with discretion by any other citizen; they are a natural part of being a citizen of this country. Not only are they a natural part of being American, we cannot be alienated or separated from those rights in any way by anyone or any entity, including our own government.
This first section is the part we all know; however, there is another part of this paragraph that we tend to forget:
“— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Most people discuss the rights identified in this section as pertaining to themselves, missing the broader picture. Individuals have the proclivity to protect their own land, property, families, and rights. It may be an instinctual process; however, by focusing on one’s self alone, one misses a larger responsibility as a citizen of the United States – to protect our nation as a whole. We rightly value those who serve in our military as protectors of our liberties, yet we forget that we, too, have a weight on our shoulders as well. We must assume the rights of all citizens and fight to correct anything that disallows members of our society from their freedoms.
In the Preamble to the Constitution, the first words, “We the People of the United States in order to form a more perfect Union,” reiterates what we found in the Declaration of Independence. The authors said again that we as a whole must come together to work hand-in-hand to achieve the most unified citizenry and society we can. It didn’t say, “We the governors…” or “We the few…” or “We the wealthy and powerful…” It says “We the People.” All the people. Everyone single one of us inclusively has a role to play to elevate ourselves toward the hopes of those who began our country.
Preamble to the United States of America’s Constitution
“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 question for us becomes this: Which single individual in our country deserves less than everything promised in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution of the United States? Which person out of the millions born in our land or who have chosen our country as their homeland, requires or deserves fewer freedoms than any other? Any thinking person will, of course, respond that there is not one person that deserves less. Some might say non-Christians, gays, Muslims, the disabled, the mentally ill, or those born in other countries deserve fewer freedoms. Certainly those who would say this are wrong according to our nation’s establishing documents. They are acting contrary to our national intention. And who is responsible for defending these individuals who have lost their voice and their first-class citizenship in our country?
In the same way as our founding fathers intended, each one of us is responsible, wholly and without abjuration, to ensure the full and irrevocable rights of all American citizens through word and deed. Anything less is contrary to who we are as a people. As we’ve learned in other fallen civilizations, we must remember who we are if we are to survive as a nation.
Polarity is unavoidable when two or more people or groups have divergent philosophies and desires for action. It’s the nature of the beast. Group A wants this. Group B wants that. Group C wants the other. The part that is sometimes missing is that all three groups necessarily must have something in common because they are discussing the same topic. Commonality is what is often missed in these discussions. This is exactly what is happening in the United States currently.
The Democrats and the Republicans have emerged as vehement rivals. The Republicans blatantly direct the public discourse toward fear mongering and accusations while the Democrats spend most their time whining and pursuing passive aggressive techniques to get their way. It has become a fifth-grade play yard with adults behaving like spoiled, entitled bullies or frightened wallflowers. The result is that neither house of Congress accomplishes very much. There is plenty of posturing, arguing, puffing up, criticizing, and belittling; however, this Congress has one of the smallest lists of accomplishments in American history.
The Democrats, the oldest party in the United States, having been formed from the Democratic-Republican party in 1830 to elect Andrew Jackson, has seen many changes to it since its inception, ending up as it is today as a progressive and liberal party. Their opposition for 20 years was the Whig party who sought to modernize and industrialize the U.S. This party supported a national bank and believed that wealth rather than military might, would win power in the world. The Republican Party burgeoned onto the American landscape in the 1850s as the Whigs began dwindling in power. It was born to halt the Kansas Nebraska Act which would have allowed slavery to move into the North. The Republicans gained a foothold in power until the 1930s when Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt became president. That power base lasted until the 1960s when Republicans reestablished support among Americans with the election of revered general Dwight D. Eisenhower. Since the 1950s only four presidents have been elected by the people who were Democrats, including Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, and Obama.
With all the disagreements since the 1830s, and even during the Civil War, rarely have we seen such abominable inaction in our government because of politics. The one thing that can be said about previous eras in our political timetable is that our legislators were, rightly or wrongly, called to action. Today, we see most of the 100 senators and 435 representatives in a stalemate on nearly every issue. The Republicans significantly rule the House and Democrats have a slight majority in the Senate. We have found ourselves in a cesspool of stagnancy that is injuring Americans at every level.
When will our politicos awaken from their angry stupors to recognize what they have injuriously done and tragically neglected to do? What are the magic words that will enlighten our legislators adequately so that we can once again have a strong and healthy economy, a strong and healthy population, and a strong and healthy operation of government? How long will we allow the politicians to blithely sing their own praises, believing everything they say, even though neither group has effectively improved our governmental situation in any substantial way?
As we approach our election in 2012, we must look long and hard at who is running for the highest offices in the land. Are they individuals of integrity, intelligence, and creativity, or are they simply arrogant blowhards who have chosen a national stage on which to lavish themselves in self-aggrandizement? What are we as Americans willing to tolerate this time around?
There is nothing wrong with a two- or more-party system of government. Opposing ideas are healthy in that we have an opportunity to hear the voices of everyone in our country. When we recognize stagnancy, however, we must encourage new blood to join the ranks. It could be a new party, or a new, wise voice who speaks as strongly as FDR, as plainly as Truman, as inspirationally as Kennedy, as eloquently as Reagan, as intelligently as Clinton, and as hopefully as Obama. Somehow, we must inspire those who have a selfless interest in the well being of the American people first and foremost as their purpose. We must find people to populate the houses of Congress who understand that in every issue, there is a mandatory expectation of bilateral resolution. Sometimes one group will have more of what it wants and sometimes the other group will have the lion’s share of the compromise, for certainly, that is a word that has become increasingly dim in American language… compromise. Let us insist on balance and compromise before we have nothing left to discuss.
Beginning in the 12th Century, the Roman Catholic Church sought to purge the world of those who were heretics to the Word of God and the law of the church. Heretics were punished, sometimes by death depending on the era, and most often at the hands of secular and governmental bodies. In the 15th Century, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella established the Spanish Inquisition, separate from the Roman church, but with the same intention and outcomes.
The purpose and reasoning for these trials were specified in the 1578 handbook, Directorium Inquisitorum, “…quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem & bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alif terreantur, & a malis committendis avocentur.” Translation from the Latin: “…for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit.” 
As I read the commentary by candidates and public officials such as Sally Kern (R-OK) who have stated that HIV/AIDS and the bombardment of homosexuality upon our children is a greater threat than terrorism, and that our country being exposed to homosexuality destroys our virtue as a country, I cannot help but harken back 900 years to the era of those who would cleanse their world of those who had different views than those in power for the betterment of the community-at-large.
There are some differences, though. First of all, the extreme right-wing political groups are a tiny fraction of the overall electorate. They are loud, certainly, but they are not the majority by any measure; yet, when we look again at the structure of the Inquisition in the 1100s, we realize that the powerful minority was attempting to take action against those who spoke against their belief systems. How is it that we are allowing this process to begin again?
As we see “Don’t Say Gay” and “Defense of Marriage Act” bills flooding our country, we realize that a segment of our population seeks to quash the civil liberties of a portion of our population. Legislative action has been suggested and taken to stem the evolution of our social structure to ensure that the status quo remains in place. This all sounds dreadfully familiar to those who understand history. The manner in which these processes are developing may be different, but the results are the same: Stop anyone who speaks out against those who bellow the loudest and do not believe as the extremists believe. Is there a difference, though, in these processes?
Some right wing candidates have put forth a suggestion that there should be a congressional inquiry into the operation of pro-gay and pro-equality organizations. With their desire to get to the truth about who funds and supports these causes, conservatives suggest that these organizations identify all donors during this inquiry. Is this an inquiry or an inquisition? Either way, this reeks of McCarthyism and the Inquisition, using terroristic and threatening methods against people who are simply seeking equal status in the United States. Should anyone question my use of the word, “terrorism,” Dictionary.com defines this words as, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce,especially for political purposes.” Our access to freedom is being threatened by congressional attack and verbal abuse in the media.
One must wonder, why is the right wing is becoming increasingly vehement about their patterns of attack upon pro-equality groups? I can only think that like a drowning person who is so afraid of dying he ultimately drowns the person assisting him, the extreme conservatives recognize that the country is changing all around them. They are so desperate to save what they know and trust, they are lashing out with every fiber of their being against a segment of their constituents to maintain their current status. If progressive groups succeed in moving the country into the 21st Century politically and socially, the conservatives will play a diminishing role in the government. They will be seen as archaic entities that are no longer necessary on the political landscape. Even in my own life, I recently heard that someone I care about very much, and who is very right wing in beliefs, say to a mutual friend of ours, after reading a particularly pointed blog I wrote, “I thought James was a nice person.” I believe I am a nice person, but a nice person who has a strong belief in equality for all Americans.
Perhaps we are not hearing hatred shouted from the mouths of angry divisive people; perhaps, rather, we are hearing the death throes of a dying breed, the extreme conservative. Ultimately, they may not be so interested in what is happening in the pro-equality movement as they are in how it is possible they are watching their demise as a power in the United States. In the same way as the Roman Catholic Church did as they heard an uprising of people who did not agree with them, they are simply screaming the question, “Why?!”
I read something today that impacted my focus on current politics. George Washington said in his “Farewell Address” in 1796, three years before he died, that his countrymen should “forswear party spirit and sectional differences and to avoid entanglement in the wars and domestic policies of other nations (Archives.gov, 2011).” If only our current politicos could hear President Washington utter those words again.
As I watched the Tea Party debate last night, I realized something very important: the men and women on that stage were genuinely interested in the success of the United States. That is not to say I agreed with them, but as an American citizen, it was my right and responsibility to hear them speak to us about their beliefs and plans for this country. Some on the stage were so far from my beliefs about our country, I had to recognize that their plans were not my plans, and I would necessarily not vote for them. Others had ideas that I believed may have merit. Would I have known that had I not listened to these American citizens of another party, or dismissed them out of hand because they were Republicans? Of course, not! Would I vote for any of the individuals on stage last night? No. Might I have considered it had they resonated as correct? Perhaps.
Washington asked in his speech that we listen to one another regardless of party affiliation. My understanding of his admonition is that we should never allow our party boundaries to become xenophobic in nature. Sadly, that is what is increasingly happening on both sides of the aisle. It appears to me, and I know to others as well that when a Democrat speaks, a Republican automatically says, “That has to be wrong.” The same can be said for the Democrats listening to a Republican.
After years of teaching in both public schools and privately, one thing is absolutely true: I can learn something from everyone with whom I come in contact. It may not be a lesson I want to learn, and it may be painful to hear it come from the individual offering this lesson, but ultimately, I grow from the experience. I learn both by example and by contrast what I want and what I don’t want. Can our legislators and candidates say the same thing? I must wonder.
George Washington, a fourth-generation British citizen of the colonies and first generation American, knew that zealous adherence to party dogma was not good for our nation. He recognized that when citizens band together with a variety of ideologies, everyone brings a piece of the puzzle together in one place. When leaders stop listening, this divisiveness can topple a national community.
We can disagree, sometimes vehemently, with our fellow Americans. We can expect nothing else. We must, however, always respect everyone with a voice enough to hear them out and contemplate in good faith the others’ opinions and beliefs. Stalwart devotion to dogma is not healthy for our country. Deigning gravitas to the opinions solely of those with whom one agrees is sheer idiocy and arrogance.
Compassionate communication between those who disagree is power. Sophisticated learning from those who hold opposing views is genius. Cooperative work with those who have differing priorities is strength. These are the qualities I hope to see in our government in short order, because what we’re doing now is simply not working toward anyone’s benefit. I believe in my heart of hearts that George Washington wold agree with me.
Archives.com (2011) “Founding Fathers – George Washington.” Charters of Freedom. Acquired on September 12, 2011 from http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.archives.gov%2Fexhibits%2Fcharters%2Fconstitution_founding_fathers_virginia.html%23Washington&h=JAQA5rLa2AQCSqJJwSGOTgVo1d-K2CpGStJNR1k4Mh8mrDg
Today, Senator Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, announced that in accordance with the bill signed by President Barack Obama recently, he would appoint three of the Democrat senators to the super committee to oversee the reduction of $1.5 trillion of the American debt. As Senators Patty Murray (D-Washington), Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), and Senator John Kerry (D-Massachussets) were announced, with Sen. Murray being defined as co-chair of this committee, as reported on CNN.com’s website, Sen. Reid declared, “As the events of the past week have made clear, the world is watching the work of this committee. I am confident that Senators Murray, Baucus and Kerry will bring the thoughtfulness, bipartisanship and commitment to a balanced approach that will produce the best outcome for the American people. (CNN.com, 2011)”
This level of optimism reflects either Sen. Reid’s complete lack of attention to the last several months of debate, or that the universe has shifted in ways utterly unimaginable to the human mind. If we have learned anything from these last few weeks, we have been sorely reminded that our legislature has little to no empathy for the American people. We have learned that even the best-intentioned members of Congress have negligible power against those whose singular focus is self-agrandisement. The activities in the coming months to reduce the debt likely will look no different than the race to August 2 that manifested this bill in the first place. They have simply been invited to clean up the mess that has been growing for the last 10 years.
The Senate and House of Representatives have been given their marching orders to develop a plan to reduce the national debt; however, we already know that the Democrats and Republicans have very different views on how to do this. We know, too, that their convoluted thought processes will steer them right back into the morass of argumentative, belligerent, and unreasonable behaviors they have so frequently exhibited. We have seen the bullies and the co-dependents shamelessly operating in full view of the American people; yet we are asked to believe that a bipartisan committee from both houses will be able to hammer out this deal? Even if they do, will it be accepted on the floors of the House and Senate? Not without a rhetorical blood bath.
Each party now believes they won part of the previous battle. Their sense of entitlement is enormous, and they will wield their gimme-ness like maces and axes against those who oppose them, just as they’ve done all along. Compromise is a sophisticated, sensitive tool that those of breeding, generosity of spirit, and intelligence understand. The barbarians that currently populate a powerful share of our legislature have shown little of this sophistication. The sole commodity that seems to be in abundance on The Hill is arrogance, and it smells like a giant hill of trash. Not unlike the old adage about the crazy folk being in charge of the asylum, the wastrels are in charge of the disaster area.
As we approach the November 16 deadline for this agreement to be completed by the super committee, we will see the true measure of Congress. It may be that the poor and disabled will benefit from this discussion, health care will be improved, military costs will be kept in check, the wealthy will carry their fair share of the tax burden, and the lion will lay down with the lamb. Yes, it’s all possible, but not probable. If the past is any indicator, U.S. Janitorial Service, otherwise known as Congress, will likely make a bigger mess than the one they attempt to clean up, and the ones who will have to carry this trash heap on their shoulders into the future are the American people… again.
Walsh, Dierdre (2011) [Reid taps Sen. Murry to co-chair debt committee.] CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/08/09/debt.committee.appointments/index.html?hpt=hp_t2 on August 9, 2011.
When I was a boy, if my mother caught my brother and me playing with sticks she would call out, “Stop that or you’re going to put someone’s eye out!” Occasionally, we would wander out of her line of vision and continue playing with the sticks until one of us got wounded. Neither of us lost an eye, but we were, as my brilliant mother foresaw, injured nonetheless. That is what is happening in our economy right now in America and across the globe. The constituents have been yelling at our leaders, “Make a deal! Compromise! Keep us strong, or you’re going to put someone’s eye out!” Not unlike my brother and me in the land of yesteryear, they didn’t listen.
The Republicans and the Democrats, the Tea Partiers and the Independents have been so focused on being right that they have forgotten about us, the people they were elected to serve. Our labels have become more important than our economy, our quality of life, and our people. Raging elephants and stubborn donkeys abound when it comes time to talk about what is best for our country. As they fight, though, we all lose out in relation to our financial solvency, global economic strength, and respect among our citizens and around the world.
As we watch the S&P and Dow decline, as we watch our credit rating from Standard and Poor dwindle from a AAA to AA+ rating, as we watch people dependent on Social Security, Medicare, and other vital programs become victims of the national hatchet, all sides keep declaring victory in “the fight.” What are they talking about? The fight should be about what will keep our people healthiest; about what will keep our country strongest. It shouldn’t be who gets the highest score in the win column. What our legislators, and I mean those in every party and faction, need to experience right now is shame. They should be embarrassed that our country has lost so much from their arrogance. They should be red-faced that as they stand before the cameras blaming the “other side” for the problems, they have forgotten their abominable role in this process. Rather they should humbly go before the American people, one by one, and say, “I’m so sorry I haven’t accomplished the work of the people in a dignified and effective manner. I have shown my lack of focus, and I have behaved in a way that makes me cringe.”
Not one person in any part of government is likely to do that, even in the face of a Gallup poll reflecting a miniscule 18% approval rating of the legislature’s work. They, and we who support them, have forgotten that before we are Democrats, before we are Republicans, before we are anything in our country, we must be Americans when it comes to the administration of our country. But, perhaps, in some strange way we are expressing our americanism by being confrontational, angry, and short-sighted. Who else could claim leaving the comforts of jolly old England for a desolate land like North America for a better life? Who else has the shame of slavery, native genocide, contemporary classism, and the polarity of such extreme poverty and unimaginable wealth? We were born of a selfish, angry population. Have we changed so much? Not really.
The year is 2011 and we still have not figured out that we are Americans first after 235 years of existence as a nation. We have proof. Just look at every facet of American life. We must insist on our legislators working together with dignity, honor, and good faith as they go forward from here. We must rally for unity, respect for others’ opinions, and a pattern of listening rather than blustering rhetoric. Is it possible? Certainly. Is it likely? I don’t know.
President Barack Obama has been President of the United States of America for less than 100 days. He is making choices as a sitting President that are, in his opinion, in the best interest of the United States.
Isn’t it ironic that the same people who chose to elect G.W. Bush twice, no less, are the same people who are ready to put President Obama on the hotseat?
Certainly, anyone can be elected President once, even under dubious circumstances; however, to elect him twice should inspire a huge question mark as to the wisdom of those who made that choice. Those who made that mistake, and clearly it was mistake, should have a photo of themselves pressing the button/popping the chad/ or whatever system they used to elect G.W. in the first place, placed in front of them before they are allowed to open their mouths.
I suspect their following statement would be, “…uh…never mind.”
We must allow President Obama the freedom to make choices as he sees fit and then support those choices as Americans. I also believe it is our duty to question his choices, but we must also consider from where we came in the last eight years.
Those who are questioning the loudest, I must ask you, “How was your assessment of the government in the last eight years? Are you happy?”
Patience, my fellow Americans. Patience.