America Could Be Great, Or Not

Kindness and empathy are thought of as abstract things (that one can’t see) and act as a person’s own reflection of the choices free will mandates. However, kindness and empathy, I argue, are concrete things that one can see, or not. One may choose to see the humanity in an NFL player who protests the treatment of unarmed black men, women and children by police, or not. One may look at a kindergarten aged child in a cage in Texas and know that’s inhumane, or not. The calculus is not complicated. One may care about these things, attempt to be a human being, or not.

Social upheaval is frightening to those who’ve always fought it. Ask anyone progressive. They’ve witnessed the end of slavery, suffrage for women, the New Deal, The end of Jim Crow, civil rights, the Great Society, a black president and fought for each one of these important, positive achievements tooth and nail. Only conservatism stood in the way. Conservatism has always opposed progress because progress lays bare conservatism’s own lie. That within its own belief, there is a nourishing paranoid fear and hatred of modernity, of change, that the conservative will have to be as true as they claim and they know they’re not up to this endeavor.

Conservatism in the 21st century has devolved into a trial to see who can be the meanest to poor people, minorities and other marginalized groups. It seeks adulation and excellence without work. It scares its adherents into believing that every brown person is a criminal, that every gay wedding is an affront to a straight one, that women being treated as human beings in the 21st century is a bridge too far. When there are gubernatorial candidates lauding rejection of federal medicaid expansion, something that is actually a life and death issue, you simply have no empathy for your fellow human beings or you just hate Barack Obama that much.

There are two Americas now under the Trump administration. The Vichy Patriots, the MAGA types, the proudly bold, but secretly fearful. The people who think that it’s entirely fair and proper for a Hispanic family to be ripped apart, parent from child, sibling from sibling, for the mortal sin of daring to seek asylum in the self proclaimed “Shining City on a Hill.” On the other side are the people, the majority of Americans, and those who as little as two years ago saw a path forward to the America we proudly proclaim on the 4th of July and swear to in our founding documents, but rarely live up and never for all of the citizenry at one single time. The

The United States of America is not a great country, no more than Frenchmen or Englishmen or Japanese, Australians, Nigerians or Iranians think their country so. We are a nation, like any other, that has done good things, occasionally great things and has been as pragmatic and dogmatic as any other. We have done great things, but we have also done deplorable things. We’ve enslaved, we’ve displaced, we’ve interred, we’ve slaughtered too. We are the chiaroscuro of Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, but also of Donald Trump and Richard Nixon. Our continued existence is dependent upon understanding this. This nation can chose to save its citizens, to protect the weak, the children seeking asylum, the minority groups seeking, not set asides or quota considerations, but simply justice and fairness in a nation that professes such and delivers lightly–or simply choose not to.

Nazi Germany didn’t start out with the idea of concentration camps. Exterminating Jews wasn’t in the campaign literature of the day. Hitler was duly elected by people strikingly similar to the Trump voters of today. People who saw the country they loved change too fast and too soon for them, who were unable or better yet, unwilling to live in it. Only then did he set forth his evil upon the world. The descent is slow and fraught with banal gestures aimed to scrape away small parts of humanity until we don’t look at what we hate as worthy of kindness, empathy or life. We are not far from that.

Kawan Pauling

North Charleston, SC 

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