Saturday, February 25, 2012

Our Crumbling Country

I find what is happening in the world, and particularly in this country perplexing. The spectre of the Republican presidential campaign has been the object of both derision and serious concern. It's been hard for me to get my mind around it all. It just seems so hard to fathom. How is it that this country seems to be coming apart at the seams?

Earlier this evening as Jo and I returned home from a little dinner out, I flipped on the TV and surfed through several channels finding nothing of interest until I hit upon AMC. "Grapes of Wrath" was already underway, but only by a few minutes. I put down the remote and settled in. It occurred to me that I had never actually sat and watched it through. Just to get this out of the way, I think it's still a pretty damn good film. It's a bit dated in its presentation, but most of the performances hold up pretty well. As much of the script is comprised of Steinbeck's words, it is decent as well.

More importantly, what takes place in the film, the story of the Joad family displaced from their Oklahoma farm to the California orange groves during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression still resonates today. Poverty, or the threat of it, tends to bring out both the best and worst in us. Hard times put a strain on any society, especially one that has enjoyed far better times. The gulf between the haves and the have nots becomes more stark, wider and deeper.

What I'm trying to convey here becomes more difficult. There is also a gulf between the Right and the Left, between progressives and conservatives, and of course, between Republicans and Democrats. These "gulfs" are not necessarily the same, not necessarily parallel. There is some cross over, if you will. Certainly not all on the Right are "haves" and not all on the Left are "have nots." There are poor Republicans and rich Democrats.

But, there is a difference in mindset. The way in which those on the Right look at the world and their fellow human beings is often far different than how those on the Left view them. It may be what actually defines us as Lefties or Righties, as Progressives or Conservatives.

The Republican presidential campaign has been defined by mean spiritedness, first against each other within the party and second against the sitting President and his administration. All of the candidates and their surrogates are placing most of their emphasis on conspiracies and fear mongering. They cannot mention Obama's name without charging him with ineptitude and/or broad charges of his being the evil spawn of satan who is consciously and purposely out to destroy this country. Accompanying these charges is not one iota of proof.

Not since the period leading up to and the years after the Civil War or perhaps going as far back as John Adams and the "Alien and Sedition Act" has there been such hatred spewed against political candidates in the U.S.

That at least some of it is race based is, in my opinion, unquestioned. But it goes farther and deeper than that. It goes back to the widening gulf between the various entities or groups mentioned above that is at the heart of our differences. These differences were perhaps most notably brought to a head during the Civil Rights movement in the 50s and 60s and broadened with the youth movement and its challenge of authority in the 60s and 70s. This difference of mind is starkly portrayed in "Grapes of Wrath." Some may consider that an oversimplification, but Tom Joad's speech near the end of the film pretty much sets out the battle lines.

"I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere.
Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there.
Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there.
I'll be there in the way guys yell when they're mad.
I'll be there in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they built - I'll be there, too."

Of the remaining Republican presidential candidates still vying for their party's nomination, I find Rick Santorum the most disturbing and, perhaps, the most dangerous to our peace and our freedom. Someone, I don't recall who, recently stated that Santorum has a great mind. Unfortunately, so this person says, it is a 13th century mind. Santorum believes that all public education should be abolished in favor of home schooling and/or religious schools (medrasahs?) He believes that Obama's call for more kids to attend college is an insideous plot to brainwash them into people in Obama's image. Santorum says these kinds of  things at such an alarming rate it is difficult to keep up with them.

I do not for one minute believe that Barack Obama or the Democrats are without serious flaws. They are, afterall, politicians. Nor do I believe they will cure all our ills. But, they do carry on the spirit of Tom Joad moreso than any other viable political group. By and large you do not hear charges of conspiracies or personal character assassinations coming from them. If anything they are far too reluctant to do so. They often allow Republicans to walk all over them. They seem to be learning, but are still all too often slow in the uptake.

Republicans have lost all sight of ethics, dignity and fair play. They have been waging a political and legislative war against women, gays and minorities. They have been passing laws and voting regulations which effectively disenfranchise literally millions of likely Democratic voters, making claims of voter fraud the great majority of which have never been substantiated. Republicans are morally and ethically bankrupt. If they should prevail in November, as Samuel L. Jackson's character said repeatedly in the film "Jurassic Park" "Hold onto your butts."



... Zoe ~ said...

I agree with you! Those four guys scare me to death but none more so than Santorum.

Here we are, 2012 and we're still taking about abortion and homosexuality and "God" and people are still leaving their homes, just walking out and going who knows where? . . . leaving their house to the bank, hoping they can feed their kids that night and all we can do is be threatened by someone's take on whether Obama is the anti-Christ or not. I'm sorry but that's how I think Santorum thinks.

I just sit back and I think, 'Seriously? I don't get it.'

Terry S said...

Here are a couple of things I meant to address in my original article but didn't manage to squeeze them in.

First: The difference in mindset I allude to in the article between the Right and Left is, for lack of a better word, heart. Generally, those on the left have a far greater capacity for empathy and sympathy for others. I believe we trust people more than most on the right. Sometimes we get burned, but that's just the nature of the beast. People are fallable. We fail each other, sometimes spectacularly, tragecally. Yet, we maintain a more positive view of humanity.

Generally, people on the right - conservatives - are contemptuous of all that. That's when they roll out the old canard, bleeding hearts.

"Grapes of Wrath" makes a great point regarding the lack of any safety net for people in distress. People who lost their farms, their homes, went without work for extended periods back in the 1930s had little or no support from government at any level. Many people starved and died. Many remained homeless for months and even years.

In the film, the only sign that government was making some effort on behalf of the people displaced by the failed economy was the place in California where they were welcomed near the end of the film. Otherwise, there was nothing.

It is just that situation which promulgated government programs not only to feed and house people who were down and out, but also programs like the WPA which put people to work and also developed our infrastructure with dams and highways, urban renewal, etc.

Conservatives label all that with the pejorative, "entitlements." To me, this is a significant part of what a modern, wealthy nation should be about. If conservatives in this country had their way, the poor in this country would be left wholly to their own devices as they are in most third world countries which can't or won't offer assistance in any meaningful manner.

What it boils down to is that the poor people in a modern, wealthy society should not be as "poor" as those in backward, poor societies.
That remains the case in the U.S. primarily owing to the existence of "entitlements." That people who are displaced, people who lose their jobs DO have a fall back. They do have recourse to a system which enables many - not all - to maintain a roof over their heads and to keep themselves and their families fed. It enables even the poorest among us to have access to health care, perhaps access to job training and so forth.

Certainly, some people take advantage of the system and abuse it. But that should not be a justification for abandoning such programs. Look at the abuse we took from Wall Street, yet, those on the Right still fight against any new or more stringent regulations.

I could, I suppose, go on and on, but I won't. At least not now.