In the hierarchy of the universe, we have God as our Primal Source. Followed by God is Its first and perfect creation, the one and only Miss Manners: Judith Martin. Lady Gaga follows Miss Manners, and then Everything Else, including the writer.
A friend recently lent us a magazine called The New Yorker so that we could read a particular article about an unsavory political candidate and the potential damage that candidate could do within his first 100 days in office.
As I read the article (admittedly, ’twas dense, and I’ve yet to finish), I couldn’t help but feel like an adult- an American adult. Sometimes the true ethos of what it means to be American reveals itself to me, the echoes of people working together to do their part and being able to do whatever they want so long as they behave civilly and legally; I could see the good times and the dance of culture, complete with problems that need to be solved and on which we actively work.
Being an American, at its best, is remarkable.
Growing up in the South, a sense of Americana didn’t exist for me. The people surrounding me more often than not were living in the past, in a world and culture that is the grandchild of the Confederate States, and while she’s not as backwards as her grandparents, that’s not saying much.
The biggest problem is how ingrained it is in the culture; it’s difficult to identify unless you leave the South and realize it isn’t the only place in the USA.
Much of my life has been spent being told what to think by people around me who somehow felt that my passivity was license for them to control me. It wasn’t, and it isn’t. I have maintained silence in the face of a number of situations where perhaps I should speak out. The question is whether or not speaking out will do any good. Does your voice really matter? Does your opinion really matter?
Surprisingly, it just might. You might be surprised to learn that the people around you, that people in your family, might respect what you have to say- you might influence them. People are influencd to a greater degree by what the people around them think than most of us realize. Yes, there are always self-reflective individuals who will go against the majority thought, but we’re rare.
After the end of the second presidential debate the so-called “Town Hall” debate in which the questions came from people in the audience as well as online questions, Bob Schieffer, a journalist with CBS, described the debate as “just disgraceful,” and I happen to agree with him. There are lines of civility that were crossed, lines of common decency and the appearance of respectability, and though Mr. Schieffer placed the majority of the blame squarely on the shoulders of one candidate, he didn’t exclude the other one completely.
The cultural and political divisions have already existed in the United States; people who suggest that the current president (Barack Obama) somehow fueled racial prejudice fail to see that the racial prejudice never went away, and that President Obama simply gave the racially prejudiced an excuse to be openly bigotted. (Open bigotry is incredibly rude, by the way.)
The same applies to our current election cycle of 2016. What we see are the deep cultural divisions that exist in the USA. People project what they think a candidate or that candidate’s opponent represents based on their biases and propaganda that’s passed around.
The situation this time around is more complicated than that. Gone are the days when John McCain, a former POW and the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, defended Barack Obama to one of McCain’s own supporters after she accused Barack Obama of being an “Arab.”
Instead, we have a candidate who thinks or thought at some point in time that it was acceptable behavior to simply walk up to a woman and grab her by the genitals followed by a number of people who misunderstood and thought the expletive he used to describe women’s genitalia was the problem, and many people began celebrating how they’ve said “worse” themselves.
I echo Mr. Schieffer’s sentiment in my own words: this is the United States of America. This is a place where we respect one another and one another’s bodily integrity and autonomy. This is a country where we don’t see other people as mere objects that we can do whatever we like with. This is a country where understand that everyone human being has inherent dignity endowed by their Creator, however one might understand God or the Universe.
We must make civility and the upholding of dignity the absolute contract to which we all agree. We have to start there and work our way through the culture.