The Broad is Back!

September 30, 2017

Heading for a Fall of Massive Proportions

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln quoted the synoptic Gospels when he stated, “A house divided against itself will fall”. At the time, the Abolitioist Movement was growing, Dred Scott had been implemented, and the nation faced a decision: would slavery be outlawed everywhere or nowhere? It had to be one or the other.

His contemporaries were not happy with the speech or him. It was too radical, not good politics. It lost him the election to the US Senate, too.

In hindsight we see the speech as political prophecy. Three years later, America was in the midst of a bitter, violent civil war, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. We like to pretend it’s all over, done, settled, but one look at America today, and I think we can see it’s not.

So here we are, 152 years after the end of that war, 151 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and pretty much we’re still seeing a house divided.

I have never seen the US this polarized in my entire life. Granted, I’m not ancient, but I remember my Republican grandfather swearing that Kennedy stole the election. I remember the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, assorted Clintongates, the GWB election, the start of the Iraqi War. Those were pretty rough times in the US.

Although I very much remember the anger and the hatred spewed by the non-Left members of my family and our neighbors, I don’t remember severed friendships, threats of violence. I heard about violence, but not around us.

Perhaps we were just as polarized, but the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle has changed the world. We hear about everything moments after it happens. It’s not that we’re more polarized; it’s just that we know how bad it is.

Forty years of poor education in large parts of the US has also lead to a nation that is unable to critically think. That’s not me being elitist (though when did elite become a bad word?). That’s from a career college professor. Much of my teaching has been in urban community or four year colleges. Currently, I’m teaching the exact same demographic I started teaching in 1988.

My students today are as bright, as talented, as lovely as the students I had then. Not all are wonderful to be around, but on the whole, I teach good people. But the students today are far less prepared to be in college. Their math, reading and writing skills are hovering somewhere between 8th grade and 10th grade. I’m a writing teacher, but if you need to figure out your grade, you need to know math.

They are ill prepared for college and ill prepared for life. And they know it after about the first three weeks of college. The plaintive cry of “why didn’t I learn this in high school” is heard almost every week. I tell them they might have just forgotten, but anyone in education can tell you just how poorly American secondary schools doing.

I don’t want to make this about education–it’s about polarization and our house being divided–but I also see daily proof that education is a major part of our problem. People can’t think. People won’t think.

They also have lost the ability to listen, to reason, and to have civil debates. This is also a topic I’ve written about in the past. Slap my face and call me Cassandra. No one listens to me.

The current president is not popular, especially here in New York City where I live. But it wasn’t too long ago that I was living in Tennessee, surrounded by his supporters. There are many who do not think his actions are racist or bad for America. We can say “that’s because they are racist” but that’s not the whole story.

He’s also called an illegitimate president because he lost the popular vote. He’s not the first, and until the Constitution is changed, he probably won’t be the last. To those who argue that he lost, I say, by three million votes. The final popular vote for the top two candidates was 62,980,160 to 65,845,063. But that translated into 304 electoral college votes to 227. We all know the numbers.

Three million sounds like a lot of votes, but according to the US Census Bureau, the US population in 2016 was 323.1 million, so that’s a less than 1% margin of the population. Of total votes cast it was about a 2.1% difference.

That’s almost half a nation’s voters supporting him. Sure, we can say sexism or Russian influence (and they are valid, Russia seeming more valid by the day), but we also have to address the fact that we are a nation ruled by fear mongering, hatred, and hysteria.

So right now, two sides of the country are at each other’s throat. I know young people who won’t even discuss politics anymore because it’s become dogmatic, intolerant, and personal.

Every day my twitter feed and even the news sources are full of ad hominem attacks against anyone who makes a point or an opinion known. If one of my freshmen tried that, I’d send the paper back with  “take this out–poor logic” in red letters. Actually, many of my freshmen do try this, because it’s what they see around them daily.

Many of the people I know are only able to do the same. I’m not claiming I’m better, but I do think I try harder to listen to people. When they spew hate, I’m more apt to ask why they think that then to spew back.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings are so deeply ingrained in me that I find it repulsive when I respond with hate. I’m human. I think bad things. I’ve said bad things. But at least I know what I’ve done.

Most people on earth are not horrible, soul less, evil, inhumane. In fact, they are very human. We’re not a very nice species. Racism is evil, but if they knew better, they’d do better. So let’s teach instead of firing back hate and insults. Education doesn’t always change minds, but hate doesn’t ever change a mind. Love can change minds. Love can open doors. Oh, I’ll just say it: love can move mountains.

I am, by nature, a Pollyanna, a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, a person who is going to believe the best will happen. But I’m also a student of human nature and of history.

We are on a collision course in this country, and we’re pretty much split down the middle. There are nuances, of course, but the polarization is stretched pretty far and pretty tight. It is read to snap.

I do not want to see civil war, violent revolution, or an armed civil rights battle.

But I see it coming.

February 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Abe. Bring on the Revolution

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It used to be a national holiday until we replaced it and Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd with the more generic and easier to plan around Monday holiday, Presidents Day.  Out of all the presidents, we honored Lincoln because he “saved the Union” and also signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a good legal first step to ending slavery in the US.

 

I have to admit that there are times when I wonder whether the Union should have been saved. Don’t misunderstand me–I love the South. It’s beautiful, full of wonderful people–my grandfather was a Virginian–and provides the United States with much natural bounty.  Much of the country’s wealth comes from the resources of the South.  My concern does not come from a dislike of a place or a group.  My concern is that the United States is just too large to govern effectively.

 

We are theoretically a collection of sovereign states and four commonwealths, each theoretically with a large measure of autonomy.  But over the years, the federal government in DC has been taking over more and more of this sovereignty, often using money to wield its will. Federal aid is cut to states that don’t toe the federal line. Money makes an excellent leash.  And when a small group of people–1oo senators, 435 representatives, a president, vice-president and a Cabinet of 15 heads of executive departments–rule over 314 million people, give or take, things are not going to go smoothly.

 

In his first inaugural address, Lincoln said, “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.”

 

I think many people are currently weary of our government. We are weary of a government run by corporations and special interest groups.  We are weary of our protests being ignored. We are weary of illegal acts being carried out in our name without our permission. We are weary of an elite in Washington that thinks it is the elite because it’s special and above us, not because we elected them to stand for us.  We are so weary of our government that many have given up–they believe there can never be change, so apathy has sunk in.  Frankly, that’s just where the power elite wants most of us to be.

 

No group is easier to be led than a group that no longer cares.  Too many of the hundreds of millions can be bothered to pay attention.

 

Perhaps if the Union had not survived, there would be a less powerful national government.  But now is the time to speak up.  There was the “Bloodless Revolution” of 1688. Rooted as it was in religious intolerance and bigotry, it’s not a perfect model, and it doesn’t actually correlate well, but my point is revolution can happen and change can come without bloodshed.  And as Lincoln reminds us, it’s our constitutional right to overthrow an ineffective government.

 

We the people have the power.  We just don’t realize it.  What was that Reagan-era slogan? “Just say no!”  Say no to a government that forgets that it’s, as Lincoln reminded us in the aftermath of a bloody Civil War battle, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

November 12, 2013

Learning a Cornerstone

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

So begins one of the shortest yet most powerful presidential addresses in American history. And this year, it will be 150 years old. And younger generations don’t know a word of it.

The bulk of today’s post is by my favorite guest blogger, my cousin Dolores, a very aware and involved woman.  You can tell we’re related sometimes! Today she sent me this email, so I’m sharing here because it’s important.

Ken Burns, famous producer of some outstanding documentaries, was a guest on Morning Joe this morning talking about a new project he has put together celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  He set up a website that you can access –www.learntheaddress.org  – & he has an incredible array of people each speaking a sentence or two of the speech….every living President does it, in addition to a varied group of well known celebrities.

He talked about a boys school in Putney, Vermont – all of their students are dyslexic & he said each & every student has memorized the speech.  He also said one of the saddest statistic is that 83% of college graduates do not know one word of the speech!!!  Unbelievable.
November 19th is the anniversary of that speech….might be a wonderful idea if every parent and grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. accessed that speech for their loved ones…..explained it, give its context, & ask their children to learn it!!!

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