Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of America?

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of America? I’m concerned that the far right’s departure from a reality-based universe, brought about in part by a case of Obama Derangement Syndrome, may be leading to that eventuality. We’ve already seen calls from hundreds of thousands of people (mostly on the right, I presume) for their states to secede in the wake of President Obama’s re-election. Now we’re seeing state after Republican-dominated state debating and even passing bills that would give states the right to nullify federal laws, to declare federal laws unconstitutional, and to arrest federal officials. The President Pro Tempore of Indiana’s Senate is advocating an Article V Constitutional Convention and his Senate colleagues voted in favor of his proposal.

Across the country, state legislatures (again, Republican state legislatures) are passing laws to make it more difficult for some people (largely minorities) to vote or even restrict voting rights out of hand. Rather than talking about how to make voting more fair, more equitable, more inclusive, we’re passing that allow fewer people to vote and make it more difficult to do so. And states are talking about changing voting laws to award electoral votes to a candidate that loses the popular vote. Today, in fact, a Republican county in Alabama is at the Supreme Court arguing against the Voting Rights Act that was nearly unanimously reauthorized just six years ago. And while some Republicans are arguing against the Voting Rights Act, others are trying to grant corporations the right to vote and expand the rights of corporations and wealthy individuals to further influence and dominate the elections process. Nope. We don’t want blacks or Latinos or students to vote, but corporate votes and corporate money are A-OK.

More and more frequently, we’re hearing rhetoric directed at fellow citizens and politicians framing them as traitors or treasonous, claiming that they want to destroy the country or are working hand-in-hand with our enemies, or asserting that those fellow citizens and politicians are actually domestic enemies of the country and the Constitution. All too often that rhetoric is tinged with threats of violence or references to “Second Amendment remedies” and the like.

People are clinging to their guns to protect them from the “tyranny” of a government that wants to treat people equally, help provide affordable health care, and keep our children safe from gun violence.

I won’t even bother discussing the ongoing arguments over social issues, taxation, the budget, and so forth.

But I don’t think we can so easily dismiss what we’re seeing as just a few crackpots on the fringe. These voices have moved in to the mainstream. They’ve been elected to Congress and many state legislatures. They’re all over Fox News. And talk radio has become a cesspool of racism, conspiracy, and hate. And thanks to the Internet, these views that might once have been relegated to the tinfoil hat fringe, are now readily accessible and gaining currency and legitimacy.

Our political processes seem broken. Congress can’t act because one party either filibusters everything (in the Senate) or won’t even contemplate compromise (in the House). Presidential appointments are stymied or delayed. The health and stability of the nation’s economy (even the world’s economy) is held hostage. Institutions like the Post Office are being forced closer to extinction. The gap between the haves and have nots continues to widen, to mention the gaps between liberal and conservative ideologies.

We may all speak English, but I worry that we’re really not talking the same language anymore.

And, far too often, the oft-repeated lie becomes the truth and facts, evidence, and science are viewed as nothing more than propaganda or lies.

We’ve also seen that Republicans were willing to let the country default on its debt obligations. We’ve seen them talk about secession. We’ve seen them demand “their country back” and talk about impeachment for … um … well, who really needs a reason to impeach a black President, right? It seems to me that some in the Republican Party are willing to wage a scorched earth campaign against the country that they claim to love. If they can’t get everything that they want, they’re going to make sure that the rest of us pay the price. They’ve spent the first four years of Obama’s presidency essentially sabotaging the economy to try to get back into power. So what won’t they do to stop progress with which they disagree? Why shouldn’t we expect them to be willing to tear the country apart if that’s what they think it will take them to “win”?

So where will this lead us? Where will our country go if some states begin claiming the right to nullify federal laws? (And what if instead of just “red” states nullifying federal gun or healthcare laws, we have “blue” states nullifying federal immigration laws, for example?) Where will we be when a rural Montana sheriff tries to arrest an FBI or ATF agent for trying to enforce a federal gun law? Where will we be when a state decides that it isn’t bound by other federal laws it doesn’t like … say, for example, the Voting Rights Act? Are we really just a collection of 50 independent nation states, loosely tied together for purposes of “national” defense?

We’ve been down the road of nullification before. We’ve seen what happens when some states exert their right to be free of federal laws that they don’t like. We’ve seen the Civil War and Jim Crow. And I’m really, really afraid that what we’re seeing now, coming primarily from Republican legislators at the state level, is a return to that way of non-governance.

America wasn’t always the world’s superpower. At the time that brothers took up arms against one another to keep the Union together or to fight for the right to own humans as pets, our survival as a nation was obviously in jeopardy. Our nation became strong by acting as a solid whole, not as just a group of 40 or 48 or even 50 individual states within a loose affiliation. We don’t root for the Californian Olympic team or pledge allegiance to the flag of Kentucky.

But today, that’s all in jeopardy. As state legislators talk about nullifying federal law, about holding Article V conventions, about arresting federal agents, we appear to be well on our way down that proverbial slippery slope.

I don’t know what lies at the bottom. Were this a map made in Medieval times, it would surely say “Here be Dragons”. But I do know this: If we continue to allow the voices of hate and intolerance to hold sway, if we continue to support politicians who talk openly of nullification or secession, if we continue believe that it’s OK to win elections, not on the merit of ideas, but on the strength of voter suppression, money, or a rigged electoral process, then the America that we’ve grown up with, that Shining City on the Hill, may soon become just another chapter in the history books, replaced by … well, I don’t know. And I don’t want to find out.

We have to stand up to the voices that, whether intentionally or not, are leading our nation to the doorway to places to which we don’t want to go. If we don’t want these days to be the beginning of the end of America, then we have to stand up, make our voices heard, and bring an end to the rhetoric and policies that will tear us asunder.

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