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.

January 3, 2014

But Why Did You Come Back?

Yesterday I had a conversation with a stranger (I will talk to anyone, really) who is currently waiting for his green card to settle in America. We were doing the “food talk” (where to get good tea–he’s English) and chatted a few minutes.

Then he asked me: “Why did you come back?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked that once people learn I’ve lived overseas.  Family is the answer. But sometimes I think, “I have no freakin’ idea. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I came back to an America I don’t fully recognize and it’s one that is crushing the life out of me.  I hobble together a life from three part time jobs; I’ve had no health care for the past year; my son is ill and even though I pay for insurance for him, medical bills are mounting because insurance refuses coverage; and I’m one of those middle class people who falls through the cracks. I make too much to get help but not enough to easily make it.

 

Luckily, the National Bank of Mom has easy lending terms and doesn’t mind missed payments, but being my age and needing the NBoM is demoralizing to say the least.

I am a highly educated person who is very good at what I do, but while I was gone my society decided to change the rules. It decided that money was more important than quality eduction, and it’s slowly but surely destroying one of the best systems of higher education in the world.  It’s already destroyed the k-12 system, so higher ed’s demise was a foregone conclusion. And no, this isn’t hyperbole.  Google “destruction American higher education” and you’ll find information on both sides of the political divide.

I also blame that political divide. The US is more polarized than it has been in a long time, with idealogues on  both sides so deeply entrenched that I fear compromise and cooperation are words that have been lost in our political discourse.

As faithful readers know, I have been trying to leave again.  I have realized that for right now I’m here for a reason, so moving has been shelved for a while.

I really do want to stay here and make America better–to serve people who need me–but I may not be able to. American society loves people who serve, but just be willing to live hand to mouth like everyone else.

Feeling a bit hopeless today.  That’s why I write, because as long as I’m writing, that means I must be hoping–hoping that there are enough people out there who are ready to take America back, to steer us to a better way.

And this doesn’t mean moving more Right or more Left. It means letting go of those labels; letting go of entrenched politics and policies and seeing that we need something else, something new.  Because right now America is on a collision course with destruction, but too many people are too harried trying to survive to notice it.

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