Why did I ever get started with re-connecting with old school mates? It seemed like a good idea at the time…
Recently one of my old high school chums, a confirmed RWer, who had taken note of the flaming lib nature of my posts and tweets, came up with an unexpected request. Could we engage in a dialogue? Now we all know how rare this is, coming from a FOX news devotee. So I felt obliged to respond to this (actually rather nice) person who still lingers in my memory as a 17 year old wearing a Catholic girls’ academy uniform. (Haven’t seen her in person since we graduated.) We exchanged email addresses and she immediately fired off round one.
To my disappointment, she didn’t write her own 95 Theses and nail them to the virtual cathedral door. She sent an article by John Hall (a very generic RW lament over the way everything is going to hell in a handbasket) and asked me to respond.
I suddenly realized how hard this was going to be. We were starting from square one. How do you summarize everything you find problematic with “them” in something short of a tome that will take days to download? And how do you do it in a way that won’t be completely alienating and off-putting?
I came up with the following, but was full of more questions when I was done than when I started. Was it obnoxious? Arrogant? Sanctimonious? Weak-kneed? Did it sound paranoid? Did it stand a snowball’s chance of opening her mind to a different point of view? Is engaging with the right even possible? Does anyone ever change anyone’s mind? What are your thoughts?
I’ll try to go through as many points as I can in the Hall article, starting at the top. I sense the fatigue, the frustration of the author, of course, right from the beginning. Who among us is not a little tired and a little frustrated? I suppose — to me — the question is where we go from there.
It seems to me that we can go in one of two major directions: we can veer toward fear and anger, or we can try to look at the world through the lens of faith, hope and love.
I think Mr. Hall is leaning dangerously toward the fear and anger option. He seems to perceive threat all around him. He’s afraid of poor people, Hispanics, Muslims, latte liberals, addicts… There seems to be no end to it. Huge numbers of folks fall into the category of “The Other.” The “Not Like Me.”
I think Jesus would say: These are not alien beings. These are our brothers and sisters. I saw it recently written: “There are two groups of people in the world: our friends, whom Jesus wants us to love. And our enemies, whom Jesus wants us to love.”
Mr. Hall mentions how hard he has worked to get all the material goods he has now, and how scared he is that someone is going to take them away from him. But haven’t we all worked hard? I know you have! And I know I have, too. Starting with babysitting at age 13 (besides plenty of house and yard work at home from a much earlier age!), to cleaning toilets and rat cages at a medical lab when I was in high school, to waiting tables at Dave’s Drive-In (THAT was a dilly) and on and on, throughout my whole life.
The people who have never had to really work hard a day in their lives are much more likely to be way at the top of the income scale (despite the claims of so many that they have earned every cent of their billions). These are people who were very likely born into a comfortable life, attended Ivy League universities and had contacts who shoe-horned them into positions of privilege. There are the rare exceptions, like John Boehner, who apparently really did have some unpleasant jobs in his youth, but they are few and far between.
So just having worked hard doesn’t really qualify anyone to claim they’re entitled to “pull up the ladder” — so to speak — after themselves, once they “have theirs.” I think we have an obligation to help those who are struggling. Always. Jesus didn’t turn his back on people because they weren’t of his faith, or they were poor, or dirty or diseased or held disgusting jobs like collecting taxes.
I sense that Mr. Hall feels more comfortable when he can sort things and people into clearly defined categories. For him, all Muslims are suspect. All poor people are either lazy, addicted or more likely both. And potentially violent. Complexity and gray areas are hard for him to grapple with. Taking people one at a time on an individual basis is challenging.
He says that neither party has a monopoly on virtue (and I agree). But then adds that he’s tired of people telling him we need bipartisanship. But what are we supposed to do then? If both parties are corrupt, but cooperation is out of the question, do we just give up and not even try to come up with anything like workable, realistic, pragmatic methods of dealing with problems? Just stay locked in futile combat that results in endless gridlock forever?
I think what Mr. Hall is not seeing is that there is a block of society that really is seeking to “re-distribute wealth.” But it’s not the current government of which he is so wary. It is the major world-wide corporations and a handful of extremely wealthy persons who want to eliminate the one entity that stands between them and world/wealth domination. That being government regulation. Taxation. And the elimination of corruption in banking and corporate practices. These would be corporations like Exxon and people like the Koch brothers who have poured untold millions into financing groups like Americans for Prosperity and the the Tea Party. They are able to buy politicians, elections, legislation and even Supreme Court justices. They are the most profound threat to real democracy that we’ve seen in a long time.
They have already channeled considerable amounts of wealth the the very top 1-2% of American society. Our unequal distribution of wealth in America is the same as in many third world societies. The top 400 individuals in the U.S. own more wealth than the bottom 150,000,000. This is not just. Despite claims to the contrary, many corporations pay nothing at all in taxes and the ultra wealthy pay at an extremely low rate. On the income that they have not hidden off-shore, that is.
People are suffering enormously because of this problem of greed. The culture of greed is contrary to Christian, and to Catholic, values and historic teaching. The people at the very top are extremely adept at getting the common person to identify his/her fortunes with theirs. Consequently they have a large army of middle and working class folks defending the very people who are exploiting them — paradoxically! But they use buzzwords like “patriotism” to motivate, and “socialist” to intimidate. They own media outlets like FOX and Clear Channel and then claim there’s a “liberal bias” in the media. They sell fear and paranoia because they know that frightened people can be manipulated more easily.
So I come back to the beginning. We must resist fear. We must resist anger. We must have the courage to love our brothers and sisters, even when they look or believe differently than we do. We must be willing to share and to compromise. That’s not weakness. That’s what Jesus taught. And he was anything but weak.
OK! I’m off my soapbox now. Forgive the length of this tome! (You can see why I had to find time before I could start to write…. 🙂 )
Hope to hear from you soon. Take care and thanks again for being willing to engage.