Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated fifty years ago. I can’t believe that I’m writing this on what would have been his 89th birthday, but recent lows in the U.S.A. compel me to note two problems. The first is more an explanation for my non-American readers, of a problem I have no solution for. I don’t have a solution for the second either, but if anyone has a helpful suggestion, I would love to hear it.
Right now the U.S. is a dysfunctional democracy. It does not function democratically because a minority rules the majority. I am not just referring to the Republican president being the loser of the popular vote, as that was true from 2001-04 as well. I am talking about being ruled in all branches of government by a party that does not have majority support. This party just passed a tax bill opposed by 64% of polled voters, including 70% of independents. And poll after poll has shown 80 to 90% majorities in favor of background checks for gun owners, yet the party controlling government as consistently refuses to do anything at all about gun violence.
We need to stop thinking that the problem in America is one man who somehow bamboozled the Republican Party and is doing the damage all by himself. He is an embarrassment and more, but he is also a symptom. What he is a symptom of is made most clear in the statement heard time and again from Americans who supported him, before the election and since: “He says what we’re thinking.”
The underlying diagnosis is that there are still people in our country who think these things, who say these things, and who are happy to hear the president say them. Why are we still shocked that everybody isn’t embarrassed, that he still has a large fan base no matter what he says or does? This is the man who told us, during his campaign, “I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
I don’t know how many of the tens of millions who voted for this man still believe he can do no wrong. I hope it’s not that big a number, and I hope it’s shrinking. But what he has revealed—what he yanks the scab off of each and every day—is an America with a big problem. Not just a “divided” America but a culture war, a partisanship so bitter that we cannot cross over it. And we can’t cross it because there are lines that should not be crossed. There is racism and it is unacceptable. During the civil rights movement, some people were simply wrong. It may not have been popular—or safe—to call them wrong at the time, but they were, and everybody knows that now.
When did it become worse to be called a racist than to be racist? I don’t mean we should call people names and wipe our hands of each other. I mean calling out racism, or any other hatred, for what it is and wherever we see it, even within our own soul.
America has a soul problem. That is certainly not new. I am not sure how to solve either problem but if we don’t work on this second one, we aren’t going to get anywhere with the first, either.
What do you think? I hear a lot of helplessness out there, so what can we actually do? It is so tempting either to get defensive, or to blame others. I see a lot of that whether from Democrats, Republicans, Americans, non-Americans; but it is not helpful. What would you actually do, in this new year, to make the country you live in better?