Originally Published: October 19, 2016 6:01 a.m.
What is very sad about recent politics is that so much progress on racism and sexism has been lost. Minorities and women would say that there never was that much progress, but there is ground lost when what had to be hidden now proudly crows in the open. When what had been out of bounds now becomes an option some consider. Maybe it’s good that it’s out in the open, but clearly it has been encouraged, and grown.
How did we get here? People had complaints. They felt government had harmed them, between letting globalization run over them and letting high finance crash the economy. People felt they hadn’t been taken care of, that they needed to raise a fuss and demand that their concerns be dealt with. “Protect me. Take care of my issue.” That can translate into things like, “Wall off the immigrants” that some think are taking their jobs.
People had complaints. Unlike other times it wasn’t just the most disadvantaged whom always have legitimate complaints. It wasn’t just the poorest or just minorities. It was people in the middle who consider themselves to be the mainstream, who felt they were being taken advantage of and getting a bad deal. Partly by losing out to the powerful. While that is ever and always the human experience, it had grown and was affecting these people more. Partly in losing to the bleeding hearts who set policies of taking taxes and giving them to people downstream. To both the pitiable poor and the “lazy” poor. Taxes to help the powerless, from people who normally would have found it begrudgingly tolerable but now were slipping and felt they needed help themselves. Adding to it, they found their wedding shops forced to make cakes with two men on top, and refugees from terrorism needing safe harbor when they were afraid themselves.
People had complaints. And these were people used to having some pull, who vote, who expect that when times are bad it will be people below them who are really hurt, that they might have to extend some charity to, but not that they themselves would suffer any serious harm.
People felt they had to shout and say, “Take care of me, of my tribe, of my kind.”
In that state, of having been wronged, and been ignored, some who either had little moral depth, or who didn’t have the clarity to understand what their demands amounted to, turned their anger to those they view as below them. “Keep the refugees out. Keep the immigrants out. Stop using tax dollars and preferential programs to help black people and women.”
In that moral storm, brought on by neglect in high places, we could have been blessed with leaders preferred by those mainstream aggrieved who could lead them as George Wallace did, as Donald Trump does, but with the character of a Martin Luther King, Jr. They could have said, “Yes, you’ve been wronged. Yes, you’ve been ignored. Yes, we need to make as much fuss as it takes to get attention and action and correction, but we don’t need to push other groups down to raise ourselves up. We could see these other groups as in the boat with us, as also wronged, and needing help. We could strengthen our hand by pooling together. Yes, we’ve been wronged, but not by them.”
Instead we got leaders who are either someone they don’t like, or who is weak and scared and feels the need to play on fears to win. Whose own moral character is racist and sexist and ready to push down the weak in order to feel strong. Who encouraged our moral temptations and said, “Yes, you’ve been wronged, and the refugees, and the immigrants, and the people who don’t look like you, and the people who don’t marry like you, are all part of the problem and all need to be pushed down.”
We could have been lucky. We could have been serendipitous and created our own luck and turned away from cheap leadership and sought out better, but too many failed that test.
The damage has been done. We were already burdened with real damage that had been done to us, and now we’ve added self-inflicted damage that will make it that much harder and longer for us to recover, and will make however deep our problems go, that much deeper.
What words do I close this with? There is no close. Like when you lose a loved one and the grief gradually lessens but never really ends, there is no close. It just is what it is, and here we are.
Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at www.tomcantlon.com.