The American ideal, an experiment in people living together with the right to life, liberty and pursuit of wholeness, has become a fractured, fragmented, divisive sense of being alienated from one another. The American government “of the People, by the People, and for the People,” has become a government of Wall Street corporations with special interests in mind.
America’s government, by attempting to create a democracy, transitioned to the establishment of an oligarchy in which a few powerful, wealthy people make decisions that impact all citizens. The current pharmaceutical special-interest influence on the Congress that has fuelled the current opioid addiction is a prime example of this.
The Founding Fathers, Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama have been replaced by the likes of Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Sabastian Gorka.
The American political atmosphere has moved from civility, compromise and agreeing to disagree over dinner to tribalism, divisiveness, attacking an enemy, lying, viewing compromise as weakness and believing in winning at any cost.
Slavery of Africans
What has given birth to this apparent decadence and decline in the America of today?
Underlying the ideal of this American Experiment was an economy based on the slavery of Africans. Human beings were viewed and treated as property, although they were inherently important to sustaining the livelihood of white property owners. Slaves counted as three-eighths of a person for tax purposes, and in the framers’ eyes, slaves weren’t equal to white landowners.
Thus, the beginnings and reinforcement of white supremacy were given their birth in the United States. This inherent shadow element was sewn into the fabric of this American creation from its inception. It’s taken 240 years to slowly unravel the strands of this way of life from our midst, and we’re still in that process.
We have a history of:
- Treating African slaves as livestock
- Tearing African children away from their parents and wives from husbands
- Fighting a Civil War to preserve such a way of life
- Jim Crow-ism in all of its ugly expressions, including an ongoing history of housing and employment discrimination
- Questionable court decisions, the most recent of which was the 2013 Supreme Court’s gutting of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
All these, together, have served as a constant attack on our citizens of colour.
With the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, states like Texas, Alabama and North Carolina regressed back towards racist ways, and are attempting to make voting more difficult for minority groups. The advent of requiring voter identification and restricting voting opportunities has emerged since this 2013 ruling, and makes voting more difficult for the poor—a vast number of whom are people of colour.
Obama, the antithesis
Obama was the antithesis to the stereotype of an inferior, piece-of-property, non-person slave that characterized the view of many racists. When he held a luncheon to meet with the leaders of Congress during the first weeks of his presidency, his fate was sealed. Everyone in the room knew that he was the smartest among equals, with an intellect that wouldn’t settle for half-truths. They knew he wouldn’t accept self-interest-dominated solutions to the staggering problems that the country faced during those days of economic peril and global terrorism. Obama totally destroyed the stereotype of the Negro slave … to the chagrin of the white supremacist community.
Minorities will soon outnumber whites, and racism is being called out. Meanwhile, those who remain living with the belief in a need for white supremacy and the alt-right have been mobilized to oppose and discriminate against not only Obama, but all non-whites, including immigrants, with a particular focus on Muslims.
The response of the conservative Republican Congress to Obama was an admix of racism and self-serving political interest. They vowed not to consider or pass any legislative proposals that this “Black Man,” who was residing in the White House that slaves built, presented for consideration and approval.
In a sort of irony that’s consistent with our current aberrant world of reality, Obama has been labelled, by some, as the provocateur of a rekindled racial divide in America. For a period of time, the notion that we, by electing a black person to be our President, had moved beyond racism was entertained. In fact, however, Obama’s election only served to stir up the guesstimated 25 percent of Americans who are racist, misogynist and xenophobic—those whom Hillary Clinton labeled “the deplorables”—to hopefully, finally, create their equivalent of Custer’s Last Stand.
Trump, the provocateur
Donald Trump has been the provocateur of this problematic movement. It began with his assertion that Obama hadn’t been born in the United States, and that his presidency was therefore illegitimate. His beginning of the Birther Movement established his racist inclinations from the outset of his presidential candidacy. While not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, misogynist or xenophobic individual, those who voted for him knew who he was and, for some reason, chose to support such a person with their vote.
Trump further reinforced unrest and conflict by discriminating against Muslims, Mexicans and immigrants in general, along with giving his implicit support for violent acts against those he’d singled out for personal attacks. Statistics show that hate crimes have escalated by 5 percent since he’s assumed office. Mosques have been desecrated, and Muslims now live in fear for their safety. Immigrants live in fear of deportation, a fear that’s being reinforced by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) attacks on individuals and families.
“My religion is kindness”
And, in the words of Walter Cronkite, “And that’s the way it is,” for now. As we continue to unravel the threads of racism from our national fabric, the ideal that was inherent in the initial impulse of our Founding Fathers—one of a country where life, liberty and the pursuit of wholeness is available for all—will one day be realized as the reality of the land.
Essentially, all this takes is treating others as we’d like to be treated; no more, no less. It takes being present with one another, listening to one another and wanting for others what we’d want for ourselves and our loved ones. It takes getting in touch with our compassionate essence and mirroring what His Holiness the Dalai Lama professes (and whose life exemplifies): “My religion is kindness.”
Simply watching the acts of heroism on the part of fellow Americans during times of disaster indicates to us that treating others as we’d want to be treated is who we truly are. Our potential, as a society, is to become the “Home of the Brave” as well as “The Land of the Free.”