A House Divided: A series about division in America, part 1

It’s 2018, and I argue that the tensions in this country are heating up. There is a definite “us vs them” mentality floating around. And a lot of it is centered around our current President of the United States.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

–Abraham Lincoln, 1858

 

 

This was a speech given over one hundred and fifty years ago by Abraham Lincoln. Yes, the speech was about slavery, but it still resonates today. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Lincoln said. And he was right. Shortly after he gave this speech in the Illinois State House, he became President of the United States, and then The Civil War broke out. The house of Lincoln’s time could not stand when it was divided against the slavery issue. Four long years of brother fighting against brother, and that was the only time we, as a country, have fought against ourselves. Lincoln was able to hold our country together, sew the seams back up. But at what cost? How many lives were lost because the division and tension was so high against the issue of being able to own other human beings?

It’s 2018, and I argue that the tensions in this country are heating up. There is a definite “us vs them” mentality floating around. And a lot of it is centered around our current President of the United States. While one of the triggers that ignited the Civil War was the election of Abraham Lincoln as President, I won’t waste my time comparing him to Donald Trump. Trump is not Lincoln. But in a later edition of this series, I will talk about the leadership in this country then versus now, and how it would look if there were to be a Civil War in 2018, which I personally feel is very unlikely, no matter how divided we are.

And, we are divided. At the time that I am sitting and writing this, President Trump’s campaign is under investigation to see if there was collusion with the Russian Government to get him elected. Every day in the news there are new developments in the investigation that lead to more yelling across the aisle. And new threats to fire Mueller, the man investigating the President, from Trump’s twitter.  This is where the divide becomes evident.

There are two sides in this country right now: Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump. And both sides are loud. And neither can get along. The fact that our current President is unashamed and openly speaks his mind, even though ninety percent of what he says are lies, makes the Pro-Trump people happy. They’ve been waiting for a President like this. The opposite is true of the Anti-Trump sect. The divide is so deep around the fact that Mueller is investigating Trump, that there are contingencies in place if Trump actually goes through with firing Trump. Or the phrase “Civil War” has been spoken in reference to Mueller charging Trump with a crime.

But how did we get to this point? When did we get so divided that we’re yelling at Uncle Mike across the table at holiday dinner and unfriending friends and family from Facebook over politics? There were several things, but a big portion of it is the educational and economic divide in different regions in America.

The people who live in the “rust belt” have felt left behind in this new era of everything becoming automated, regulated and shipped overseas. They need someone to blame. Trump, during his campaign, gave these people someone to blame, and promised them he would fix all of their problems.  This is his “base.” He is always appealing to them. He knows the right words to say, and they don’t care if he’s lying or not, he’s appealing to their emotions and addressing their needs.

The people who live in the more urban areas tend to be more on the “Anti-Trump” side. They’re more progressive, they’re in favor of a lot of the changes that are occurring in the world, and they are generally a little more well off because they have not had their livelihood shipped overseas. They tend to see through Trump’s lies, and view him as a threat to democracy. They are very much in favor of the Mueller investigation and will be very upset if Trump really does fire him.

This is just one of the things that is causing great tension between everyone in this country. You’re viewed as either patriotic or anti-American by someone, and those definitions differ depending on what side of the argument you’re on. This may just be one thing, but we’ve seen it spiderweb through our country, causing a lot of strife. We’ve seen this allow White Supremacy groups to come out of hiding, causing the racial divide to deepen, which I’ll talk about in another article.

But what can we do to stop it? I honestly don’t know. I would like to think if Trump were no longer President, it would all go away, but that’s naive. This era has opened up a can of worms, so to speak. We need to look at the concerns of both sides and address them, reasonably. We need to listen and see both sides and try to come to some kind of compromise.

If you read the full text of Lincoln’s speech, you will find that’s what he wanted as well: compromise. He knew that if both sides didn’t find common ground, nothing good would come of it. And they couldn’t, and that’s how we have The Civil War. Let’s not let this drive us to this point. Let’s not let the President be what makes or breaks this country. We’re all Americans. Let’s all treat each other like brothers and sisters and not the enemy.

This is just Part 1 in a series about the division in America. Please come back next week and check out Part 2, which will be about how guns have caused a division in this country. 

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Trump’s Budget Proposal: Unfair to the Majority of Americans

In 1929 the stock market crashed on Black Tuesday creating what would be known as The Great Depression. Millions of people lost their jobs and their homes. Families struggled to feed themselves and their children. When he became president in 1932, Franklin Roosevelt made it his mission to bring the country out of the Depression. Through the new Deal, Roosevelt implemented many policies that helped bring the country out of the Depression. Among those policies were the beginning of programs we now know as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Food Stamps, or SNAP as it’s now known. In the 1960’s, Lyndon B. Johnson expanded upon these programs forming them into what we are familiar with today.

Today, millions of Americans rely on these programs. The elderly count on Medicare for their healthcare needs and social security for their financial needs. The poor and middle class rely on Medicaid for healthcare assistance and use SNAP in order to feed their families. These are all amazing programs that many people rely on, and if they didn’t have them, they would probably die.

That’s why this week when President Trump released his budget proposal everyone was outraged with his proposed cuts. It almost seems like class warfare. Increasing the budget for the military, which it doesn’t need, at all, but cutting programs that help the poor and the elderly is a decision that is hard to digest.

The cuts to Medicaid and Medicare come at a time when the administration is working hard to dismantle The Affordable Care Act. The United States already ranks thirty-seven in the world for health care. We’re one of the only developed nations without universal health care. Gutting these programs that our most poor and elderly almost completely rely on is mind-boggling. Why would we want to make it so that people who are sick can’t seek help? Why would we want to get rid of these programs that help people so much?

The cuts to SNAP is another big slap in the face to people who rely on it. The majority of people who use SNAP work full time. Sometimes they work the equivalent of two full time jobs. The fact that wages in this country are disproportionate to cost of living, makes it difficult for a family to pay rent and utilities and also put food on the table. That’s where SNAP comes in. It helps parents feed their children healthy food. Trump’s cuts to SNAP come with the caveat that they’ll give people receiving SNAP a subscription box of food. Which sounds okay on the surface. Food delivered to their door so they don’t have to take time out of their chaotic and often busy lives to grocery shop? Great! Except that it’s not. These boxes will be full of canned and prepackaged foods. No fresh milk or produce. How is this good for these families? The families also won’t be able to choose what comes in their boxes. So, what about people with dietary restrictions and allergies? Can you see the problem here? This is only creating more issues for the program, all based on myths about the misuse of the program.

Where do we go from here? I’m hoping that Congress sees Trump’s budget proposal, and uses it as just that: a proposal. Congress needs to hold the good of the people above the good of themselves. They need to keep funding these programs, and making sure they succeed. Why do we want to move backward in history and see a return to record numbers of families on the streets or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor for simple issues? You need to contact your representatives and let them know that you won’t sit back and watch our social programs disappear in favor of a larger military. Our lives are worth more than that.

The Movement Heard ‘Round the World

On January 21, 2017, millions of women gathered together and marched.  Not just in Washington, D.C., but all over the world. These women were fed up with the status quo. Women are continued to be paid less than their male counterparts. They are continually finding their access to women’s health providers blocked. And they are just plain fed up with being treated as second class citizens.  What the women who organized these marches couldn’t see was the ripple effect that it caused. This one march, on one day, lit a match, and that match ignited a movement.

#MeToo

In October of 2017, a hashtag started popping up over social media. Women began sharing their stories of sexual assault, all with the hashtag: #metoo. Activist Tarana Burke is the creator of the hashtag, and has been using it for years. However, on October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano boosted the hashtag’s reach when she tweeted about it. It caught fire. Soon, millions of women were tweeting and posting on Facebook their #metoo stories. Seeing other women talking about it  allowed women who hadn’t had the courage to speak up about their experience before, to boldly broadcast it to their followers. A movement was born.

The #metoo movement became so significant that people started feeling like they could speak out about men in power positions who had abused them in the past. Men like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and more. It seemed that every day people were coming out, and feeling like they had a  voice and could be heard. It was so powerful that in December, Time Magazine named these women (and a few men) their Person of the Year, dubbing them “Silence Breakers.” Finally, women who have been abused were given a voice.

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It seems like every day we’re watching as another person in power is being called out for their behavior, and instead of lashing out at the victims, people were lashing out at the perpetrators. We watched as these powerful men were fired from their jobs. Taken out of these positions of power. And this was just what was happening in the spotlight. What about in the private sector? These everyday women? I would like to think that they too have found their voice. That they saw the publicity and got the courage to speak up about the abuse in their lives. That they are now brave enough to have their voices heard.

Time’s Up

The Time’s Up movement is another offshoot in the year of the Women’s March.  This movement is much newer, only being founded in the beginning of 2018. This movement not only focuses on stopping the abuse and harassment of women in the workplace  but also pay equality in the workplace.  You may have seen a lot about this movement in the news lately, as it’s mostly been started out of Hollywood in response to the Harvey Weinstein allegations. During the Golden Globes, everyone, men and women alike, wore black in order to signify support of the movement. And during the recent Grammy Awards, people in support of the movement wore white or white roses.

The difference between the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements is there is a legal defense fund set up for Time’s Up. You can visit their website and get help if you have been sexually harassed or abused in the workplace. They will connect you with a lawyer, even if you don’t have the funds. If you haven’t been sexually harassed or abused in the workplace, but want to help, you can donate to the fund on the website as well.

The Future of the Movement

While this movement is still new, there has already been backlash toward it. As every day more and more men who are in power positions are outed for their abuse of these powers, people are starting to lash out against it. Recently with the revelation of Aziz Ansari having a questionable encounter with a woman, people have started questioning how far is too far. Where do we draw the line? People like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer are repeat offenders who have done horrendous things to women (and men and underage boys in Spacey’s case). Ansari had one encounter (that we know about) where the lines of consent were blurry, but crossed. Do we put them in the same group? These are things that need to be addressed. It’s great that women are speaking out against their harassers, but do we, as the public, need to categorize them in the same levels? And what can we do to prevent things like this from happening?

I think instead of lashing out against the movement, we need to focus on better sexual education courses in school that teach the nuances of consent.  We need to make sure everyone is aware that the definition of consent isn’t the absence of a no, but the presence of a yes. If consent is taught better, if there is more education in general, then I think there will be a decrease in these behaviors. In addition to consent being talked about in school, we should see it more in the media we consume.

Same thing with women in power positions. We need to see the representation of women getting equal to men. We have seen recently in the last week the story out of the Grammy’s. The awards this year were male dominated. The official response? Women need to step up.  That is an unacceptable response.  Organizations need to do better. People need to do better.

Right now, PBS is airing a series titled: “Me Too, Now What.” This series will explore how we can bring this movement into the real world, and what we can do moving forward. You can watch the series on PBS’s website, for free. If you’re having a hard time trying to figure out what you can do to help move the movement forward from here, this series will give you several good ideas.

Hopefully, this next year we will see people doing better. I hope that there is a shift. A shift from only outing the people who have done wrong to what we can do to make things better. How can we prevent these things from continually happening? There needs to be more actions that just wearing clothing in solidarity. We are fighting against an administration that the head of says he’s not a feminist. We are fighting an uphill battle as long as the current administration is in power. We need to tighten our laces on our walking shoes. It’s going to be a long road ahead.

 

E Pluribus Unum

When juxtaposed against the entirety of human history, 240 years is but a blink of an eye. And while we, as a species, have accomplished more in that time than in the millennia that preceded it, we now stand at a most precarious precipice moving forward. The phrase “we the people” is a call to recognize that all who gather under the banner of these United States must necessarily be afforded a chance for their voice to be heard. We must insist that the framework of governance as the founding fathers intended is neither bestowed upon us by divine providence nor constructed by an infallible age of men.  What was an improbable experiment in democracy continues to be shaped by those who dare to believe they have a role to play in it. A role which has expanded exponentially by the efforts of recent generations who were determined to permanently cleanse this land of its great and foul stains. To be a person of worth need not be defined by the color of one’s skin, or how we pray, or how we love; whether we identify as a man, woman, or a gender not defined by convention. Whether we toil in the fields, or behind a desk, or march proudly in service to protect these freedoms we hold dearly, we must always recognize that “we are a nation that is greater than the sum of its parts, that out of many we are truly one.”

Gone now are the days of civil discourse, and while we remain content to blame this breakdown in communication on social media, each other, or maybe even ourselves we must recognize that this vitriol is not a new development. We must acknowledge the festering irony that a country founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness openly allowed onto its shores the shameful trade of slavery. A market dependent on the systematic dehumanization of an entire people was allowed to bake into the very soil that dared to call itself the land of the free. Try as we might, that damned spot has yet to come out. Some may point out that Thomas Jefferson, himself a slave owner, advocated to prohibit the importation of new slaves in the hopes that it would ultimately lead to abolition of the trade. But even after 50 years, half the country would fight the other half in a bloody Civil War before slavery was outlawed almost entirely.

The thirteenth amendment officially ended slavery in this country, but only as it existed as a trade. Slavery is still legally around as criminal punishment. Around this same time, the criminalization of African Americans became a part of the culture. And the active separation between white and black people culminated in Jim Crow Laws, segregation, and the disenfranchisement. It is important to note that for slavery to have existed in the first place, one thing had to have happened: the falsehood that one group of people is not as good as another group of people had to have been perceived as truth. So while the slave trade ended with the Civil War, the culture that actively denied to recognize the humanity of African Americans continued unfettered. History books may show that slavery ended in the United States in 1865, but the voice of black communities would not be heard until the Voting Rights Act a century later in 1965.

But the sentiment of hate continues to this day. As James Baldwin once put it, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” And we have insisted on romanticizing a revisionist version of history that fails to recognize the worst parts of our past and in doing so have preserved those parts. What is worse is that any attempt to learn from the past is framed as tearing down heritage. Not only does this perspective distill history into nostalgic anecdotes about a romanticized past, but it is a nonstarter that impedes any sort of dialogue. The very people who were forced, for generations, to build this country are denied to claim even a piece of it. Nevertheless, they persisted. And their voices became shouts that demanded their right on this earth to be respected as human beings.

The struggle of African Americans throughout the country’s history serves as a true map to freedom. Unfortunately, the map is far from complete as long as there exists the cries of help that go unheeded. Whether from Flint, Michigan or Standing Rock Reservation or Puerto Rico, these cries for help are but a whisper away from being cries of revolution. We are not meant to be a nation that retreats to excuses, and yet all the perceived wrongs of today are placed squarely on the shoulders of immigrants. The qualifier “undocumented” or “illegal” are consequential. The negative attitude towards immigrants is thinly veiled hate augmented by fear of the other. If one is willing to sacrifice someone else’s freedom to ensure one’s own security, then neither are deserved.

The building of a more perfect union is a continuous endeavor that we must not fool ourselves into thinking is anywhere ever near complete. If anyone becomes hoarse from unheard cries of help, we must not make that an excuse to invalidate their need of help. We can move forward from this moment in history with dialogue; one in which we must be vigilant in not allowing our own cries for help degrade into shouting. Shouting only serves to drown out the other voices, not to make one’s own voice heard. We must learn to hear each other, then to listen. It is only when we can learn to do both that we can attempt our best to curb personal biases and negotiate a more inclusive system. We can do better and must do better in learning how to see human beings as human beings if we expect to ever be free at last.