Sunday, November 29, 2015

Maybe We're Not Better Than This

I keep hearing over and over that we're better than this. We're better than the Republican candidates who have sunk to all-time lows to incite a base that was already loaded for bear in the first place. We're better than the mindless shootings that take place week in and week out. We're better than all the accounts of police officers killing African Americans for no reason. We're better than the vile anti-Gay attacks by so-called Christians. And we're better than the wave of anti-Muslim and anti Mexican rhetoric being spewed by white supremacist groups and, yes, by Donald Trump.

I beg to differ. Frankly, I don't think we're better than this. I think what we're witnessing in this country is the culmination of decades of voter apathy, political corruption, corporate manipulation and a nativist element that, to be honest, has always existed in one form or another. Contrary to what the founders envisioned, this is hardly an enlightened electorate. It's lazy and, for the most part, lost in its own private Idaho. Oh, it gets upset from time to time, but then, when the dust settles, things go back to the way they've always been. Barack Obama is wrong when he says, "This is not normal." Sorry, Mr. President, but this IS normal. The new normal. This is the United States of I Don't Give A Shit.

Believe me, I wish it weren't so, but as a well-known police show detective said repeatedly, "Just the facts." And the facts are not only undeniable, they're damning. We have a crumbling infrastructure, an education system that is in decline, a shrinking middle class, millions of blacks incarcerated unjustly, with millions more potentially barred from voting due to voter suppression laws, and what are we worried about? That a few thousand Syrian refugees, most of whom are women and children, might destroy our way of life. Funny, for a people who supposedly believe in the Constitution, it's astonishing how little faith we truly have in it.

We have allowed the country to be turned into a shooting gallery. Yet any effort to bring up the need for sensible gun regulation is instantly met by the typical "what we need are more guns" nonsense. Seriously, putting more guns in circulation makes about as much sense as confronting an alcoholic for his drinking by making sure everyone around him is just as drunk.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook this question: Has President Obama caused more racism or has his election exposed underlying racism? While I was relieved that the majority responded by saying exposed, frankly, I think that's the wrong question. The real question should be, When will the majority of Americans wake up and take back their country? Because from what I've observed, the answer is never.

Oh I'm sure that they want to. And after events like the ones in Colorado Springs, or Chicago, or Staten Island, or Newtown, or Tucson, there are stirrings within the population that indicate a willingness to proceed. But the followthrough just isn't there. To put it in Biblical terms, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

This is a society that has become so self-absorbed and numb, I doubt anything can shake it from its lethargy.  Think about it. We seldom talk to each other anymore. Thanks to social media, we don't even have to look at one another. Recently I saw a rather amusing posting on Facebook about a coffee shop that didn't have wifi. A sign read, "Talk to each other. Pretend it's 1995." I dare Starbucks to do that today. Their stores would turn into ghost towns.

A look at some of the top TV shows reveals a troubling trend. We as a nation are addicted to reality shows. Just yesterday I was watching an episode of Law and Order on the WE Network. Would you like to know the lineup for this network? I can assure you, Law and Order was the exception to the rule. Go up and down the cable dial and it's just as bad. These reality shows get huge ratings as do shows about people moving to exotic places. A decade ago they were virtually nonexistent. What people won't do to escape.

And the films we watch aren't much better. Movies like The Avengers and Man of Steel are ostensibly about super heroes who rescue the human race from alien invaders. Amazing! We're slowly cooking the planet, but don't worry, Tony Stark and Clark Kent will arrive in the nick of time to save the day.

And while we flock to the theaters in record numbers, many of us don't even bother to vote. Only 54 percent of eligible voters bothered to go to the polls in 2012. The numbers for 2014 were even worse. Only 36 percent of eligible voters turned out, the lowest since World War II. Shameful!

And even when we do vote, nothing much changes. It's really hard to feel sorry for an electorate that gives Congress only an 11 percent approval rating, yet votes for the incumbent 96 percent of the time.  Face it, we have the government we deserve. To paraphrase Cassius, "The fault lies not in our leaders, but in our voters."

It's time to admit a painful truth. There is something seriously wrong with American society. We complain a lot about the way things are, but lack the resolve to change them. We decry the violence on our streets and the money in our politics, yet don't hold our elected officials accountable when they fail to deal with them. We are gullible and indifferent, a dangerous combination if ever there was one.

Only an incurable optimist could find the silver lining in this cloud. And I'm hardly that. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I don't see anyway out of this paper bag we've crawled into, not unless we're willing to make some fundamental changes in the way we live our lives. And I just don't see that happening. Not with our priorities this screwed up.

There's an old slogan that goes like this: "If nothing changes, nothing changes." For America, that slogan might well turn out to be our epitaph.

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