It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I know I said I would be posting about my tangential musings following Sandy Hook, and I still plan to do that, but there have been some disruptions in the Quirkyverse that have absorbed my thoughts these last few months. I won’t write about them here, haven’t written about them at all, actually. Not because I’m unaffected, not at all, but because they are not my issues to write about. There’s not even anything I can do about them except support my loved ones as best I can. They have been my focus for 2013 so far and will continue to be for a while, I’m sure.
That said, I need to start writing again. If I don’t, I may implode with the weight of the words. I’m out of practice and they’re kind of pent up in there, so they could trickle out slowly and painfully, as they’re doing this moment, or they could just start spewing out with force at any time. I’m afraid that either will hurt, but it’s a necessary first step. And now I feel the need to apologize for the thinly veiled colon analogy. Sorry.
Sparky, wonderful man that he is, encouraged me to take time away at a hotel this weekend. I did and it was lovely. I did not, however, spend that time writing as I had planned. Instead, I read, napped, and watched some TV. As I said, it was lovely. At first I felt guilty for not writing, but then I wrestled that to the floor and threw it out the window. I needed to loosen my internal system before I could write. I could go on, but already feel myself slipping back into the colon analogy, so suffice it to say that I don’t feel guilty anymore.
Now it’s Sunday and I’m sitting here in the library wondering how to untangle my thoughts and determine which thread to lay down here. I keep coming back to the movie I watched last night: Schindler’s List. I went with a friend when it first came out in theaters. As I recall, we were late and the line was long and we ended up missing the first ten minutes, so we started at a disadvantage. I was in my early twenties and had seen my fair share of horror films, so it hadn’t occurred to me that the death in this movie would bother me. I was so naïve. I’m pretty sure I surprised my friend when, about two hours in, I leaned over to her and said, “If they kill one more kid, I’m leaving. I’ll meet you out in the hall whenever you’re ready.” A few minutes later, I was sitting outside that theater with my back against the carpeted wall. My friend joined me not long after and we left.
I had been told by many people that we left just before the good part and that I should go back and watch it. I’ve thought about doing that many times over the past 20 years, but could never bring myself to do it. Until last night. And last night, I watched it all the way through. It was windy and the cable cut out a few times in the middle, so I may have missed some of the violence I saw the first time around. That’s okay. I figured out a while ago that it was never the violence itself that bothered me.
No, what bothered me was the ability of a group of people to deny the humanity of another group of people. To believe that they were so other as to not be human at all. At 24, I knew the history of the holocaust, but it’s one thing to know it on an intellectual level and another entirely to watch it unfold on a screen in front of you. I wasn’t ready for that; was simply incapable of processing it on an emotional level. So I walked out.
At 24, I wasn’t ready to accept that marginalization on this level had been so very real. Or so very close in time or vicinity. I wasn’t ready to let go of my belief that, although it had happened, we had learned from it and it could never happen again.
At 44, though I don’t think I will ever understand the thought process involved, I realize that it’s never really stopped happening. Cambodia. Bosnia. Rwanda. Darfur. Still, those places are so far away. Nothing like that could ever happen here. Right?
I’m sure many Germans felt that way in the 1930s. Germany was recovering from a war and economic times were hard. Sound familiar? Hold that thought a minute.
I also recently saw the musical movie of Les Miserables. There were things I liked about the movie and things I didn’t, but what struck me most was the level of reality they were able to achieve onscreen. I know the story is fictional, where Schindler’s List is based on actual events, but both movies were able to make me experience the story as if I were actually there. I also think the larger societal themes in Les Miserables are probably not far from the reality of the time. And I was stunned by the similarity between 19th century France and 21st century America. And, sadly, early 20th century Germany.
I saw a tendency to view a population of people as something less than human. In Les Miserable, it’s the poor. In Schindler’s List, it’s the Jews. In Nazi Germany, it was actually Jews, homosexuals, immigrants, the poor, the unemployed, and many other groups. In 18th and 19th century America, it was the black slaves. In 21st century America, we’re back to the poor. Not that the poor were ever out of it, we just sometimes focus on other populations as well. And for the last thirty years or so, we’ve been adopting policies designed to wipe out the middle class, thus making a few rich people mega rich, while exponentially expanding the size of our population of poor people.
Which brings me around to the Preamble of our very own Constitution. Come on, those of you old enough to have grown up with School House Rock can sing it with me:
We the People, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.
I want to focus on the part about promoting the general welfare. Now, I’m no constitutional scholar and I know there’s debate as to the legal meaning of this clause, both in the Preamble and the one in the Taxing and Spending Clause, but I’m not going to address that. I’m not concerned with what it means legally or the kind of power it confers on the government. What I’m concerned with is what it means for citizens of the US.
I know that the founding fathers didn’t write this clause with me in mind. Or you, for that matter, unless you are a rich, white man. But the truly beautiful thing about our Constitution is its ability to change with us. And, so, I believe that it now applies to you and me; to all people living in the US.
But what does it mean to promote the general welfare? I can only tell you what I think it means. I think it means we have a responsibility to take care of each other. To ensure that every member of our society has his or her basic needs met. Not that I think every last person should be given the keys to the city without making a contribution of his or her own, just that I think no parent should have to choose between feeding a child or taking that child to the doctor because they don’t have enough money for both. And I think that, when you are successful, it’s your responsibility to help the society as a whole function. The more successful you are, the greater your responsibility to do this. More than just your responsibility, it’s in your best interest to support the infrastructure of the country, including its workers. It’s important for all of us that we have safe roads and sturdy bridges. That we have clean water and fresh air. That we have healthy people who can go to work, earn a living wage, and go on to buy our products. I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there scamming Medicare or the welfare system or that those systems don’t need to be retooled. What I’m saying is that’s not a good reason to do away with the system or to cut it to the bone. Those programs are components of our safety net and we need that net to catch as many people as possible. As many humans as possible.
Now that we’re at the end of two wars with a struggling economy and a crumbling infrastructure, we should pull together to build this country back up. But the policies I hear from the mouths of Boehnor, Cantor, McConnell, Ryan, etc. are invariably about making sure that certain populations are denied rights like marriage and basic healthcare or they are about benefitting big business (e.g. guns and oil) at the expense of the people of this country.
I don’t agree with everything Obama endorses. Drones and fracking, for instance. And there have always been politicians like Boehnor et al around. But it seems different to me now. It seems like they’re shouting louder and louder and there don’t seem to be many reasonable voices out there to counteract them. I hear Marco Rubio talking about how his parents benefitted from Medicare and he went to school on government funds, but somehow those opportunities have nothing to do with his success and should not be available to anyone else. They don’t deserve it. They should just pull up their bootstraps and try harder. I know that’s not the exact text of what he said, but it is exactly what he said. And the only thing I hear anyone say about it concerns his awkward drink of water. If it hadn’t been for his sudden thirst, would we even talk about his speech at all? Where are the voices to call out the hypocrisy? And by hypocrisy, I mean his assertion that he’s still awesome even though he accepted the government’s help, while anyone outside his family who cannot manage to get by without government assistance is just lazy and unworthy. Those people are they and they are not part of us. They are less than us.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Mr. Rubio is a patriot. Mr. Rubio and his collegues believe whole heartedly in American exceptionalism. It’s just that the lazy souls who need government assistace are unworthy of that label. They are not part of us.
Same goes for homosexuals. If they were allowed to marry, they might get the idea that they are equal to us. That would destroy the very fabric of our society because they are not part of us.
Same for illegal immigrants. They come here and take our jobs. We cannot allow them a path to citizenship because they are not part of us.
They are the poor, the homosexual, the immigrant. Do those groups sound familiar? They are not part of us. They are less than us. Mr. Rubio and his colleagues have not gone so far as to imply that they are less than human. Not yet.
It’s more than just politicians and pundits, though. I hear regular people espouse these views that come directly from the right wing talking points. When you try to discuss it, they shout you down with irrelevant arguments or “facts” they’ve gotten from Fox News because “it’s the only news source that tells the truth.” Some shrug off confrontation with facts by saying you can find facts to support any viewpoint. No, you really can’t. You can find something on the internet to support any viewpoint, I’ll give you that, but being on the internet doesn’t make it a fact. I’m headed off topic again, so I’ll pull back before I start explaining what a fact is.
Here’s an example of something I hear from people I know: “I don’t want my taxes paying for some lazy woman to sit around the house having more kids.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but those kind of statements scare the shit out of me. They smack of misunderstanding of poverty and perceived moral superiority. They are in line with the feeling of American exceptionalism and superiority that is pervasive in our society. They sound, to me, like precursors to statements where the person speaking does not acknowledge the humanity of the group he/she is speaking about. And I don’t like where that leads.
The more you can increase fear of drugs and crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all the people. ~Noam Chomsky
Wow, that was an awesome post! I really think that you’ve nailed it. Us vs. Them is divisive and doesn’t lead to good outcomes. And the current feeling in this country is not conducive to feeling safe, like part of the whole, or like you have the option to pursue happiness. I worry too.
Thanks, Skye. You’re good company in worry. 🙂
Me too. I just raised my hand in agreement.
I got into a debate with a teacher yesterday about drug testing for welfare. I say NO because the only thing worse than living in poverty with your parents on drugs is doing so without food. Also I argued with a beloved friend who said that if we let gays marry since it says not to in the bible then next we will let people have sex with animals because that’s in the same Old Testament chapter. THESE ARE PEOPLE I replied. And that is called the slippery slope. I took logic in college.
Then my head exploded.
I’m grateful that our heads are like starfish legs in that we regenerate them after they explode from anger or exasperation, but am not amused by the mess. I wish people would stop making it happen.
And we mustn’t forget that over 110,000 Japanese Americans were interned because they had the enemy blood. The government apologized, but it happened. In this country.
It absolutely did. In this city. Not only to Japanese immigrants, which would be bad enough in and of itself, but to second generation Japanese Americans; people born and raised in this country. Born and raised here, they still were not a part of us.
We talk about The Land of Opportunity, but we never mention that the opportunity isn’t really available to everyone.
As usual, I’m late to the party, but I absolutely love this post. I want to print it out and post it on street corners. Well done, Michelle. But then, I have come to expect your precision in cutting to the heart of matters. I try to make these arguments and I just get red faced and spluttery. My righteous indignation is not a pretty thing. Love this.
Thank you, Kimberly. You should have seen the article before Sparky convinced me to cut the tangential rant from the middle. 🙂