Tuesday, May 13, 2008

2 Americas

I’m going to steal John Edwards’ campaign platform here for a second, because he was right about the premise—there are 2 Americas, one rich, one poor—but wrong about the context in this year’s election season.  There are two Americas where the “haves” have an easier time of getting more and with sound financial planning have a fairly comfortable time keeping what they have while the “have nots” have a tough time doing anything.  For example, my battery died yesterday.  Because I have a little socked away specifically for emergencies, this was no big deal.  I went out and plunked down $75 and got me a new battery.  However, there was a time when that would have been disastrous and I’d have had to go about piecing together transportation for a few weeks to put together a measly $75.

It’s a fact of life.

But what’s also a fact of life is that even though there are these “2 Americas” where the “haves” have and the “have nots” struggle, there is still the means available to the “have nots” to drag themselves out of that ditch and plod forward if they make smart choices and not dumb ones (read that to say “payday loans” and “credit card debt” and “spending rent on lottery tickets”).  No, it’s not easy, but good things rarely are.


But John Edwards’ campaign was wrong about the context.  The “2 Americas” he should have been talking about, and that is timidly being skirted around with Obama’s campaign, are the America that is and that America that could be.

Let’s not be coy about things.  The America that WAS has serious flaws.  As a group we’re an ignorant people, insulated from the greater hardships that befall the world (some of which we introduce, some of which we fight to expel), and unconcerned about the ways and customs of “others”.  We’re ‘Mericans, by gawd, and if they don’t like it, they can kiss our fancy asses!

But then there’s the America that COULD BE.  This is the America that you experience as individuals.  The one on one interactions that show the depth and breadth of generosity and caring and loving that’s rooted in our values of individual achievement and giving back  when you’ve been blessed so much in so many ways.  It’s the America that sees the guy in the rain on the side of a road trying to change a tire with a crappy little factory jack that stops and helps out with the hydraulic floor jack you have in your trunk.  Not because you SHOULD, but because you can.  It’s the America that brings a hot lunch to a neighbor who just had a baby because you know how crazy and hectic those first few weeks after becoming a new parent can be—or you can’t fathom that kind of hectic schedule and you feel that much more empathy.

These are the two Americas.  The America that has a great well of compassion and wealth that’s more than willing to share both with any cause out there, good or bad.  But there’s also that shallow, callous America that doesn’t understand that where giants trod, villages are inevitably smashed underfoot when no though is given to the proper path to be taken.  This is the America that perpetrated the relocation of Indian tribes.  This is the America that perpetrated lynchings, and segregation, and slavery.  This is the America that had Jim Crowe laws.  This is the America of Tuskeegee.  This is the America that has committed any number of morally ambiguous actions over the years in the name of a greater good, without thinking of the chaos being left in the wake.


I don’t consider an “America that IS” because in part the “America that IS” consists of a mishmash of the America that WAS and the America that COULD BE.  There’s this confluence of the two that at times has been historic in nature—see the 1960s and the 1860s—and sometimes it’s a little more subtle—see the 1990s.  But the “America that IS” is almost always a transitory beast that you can’t really put your finger on at any one point in time.  The America that COULD BE is always fighting a battle against the America that WAS and trying to put right the ills of the past and promote the promise of the future.  The America that IS promotes democracy in a war torn Lebanon in line with the hopes and dreams of the America that COULD BE while fighting against the elements that the America that WAS had an integral part in creating.  The America that IS has community education and outreach programs in place to help bring about the America that COULD BE in neighborhoods and cities that wouldn’t exist were it not for the flawed (and subtly racist) programs of the America that WAS.  The America that IS fights the crime, discontent, and disconnectedness that the America that WAS had a role in creating (ref. housing projects in Chicago for a prime example), in order to shepherd people out of that world of darkness and into that world of hope that the America that COULD BE represents.


The “America that could be” is what most of us are most familiar with.  This is the America of rising incomes and home mortgages and acquiring wealth and stability and hope.  This is the America where we live.  This is the America where, if we take care of our families and live within our means, we can do better than our parents.

But the “America that WAS” is an America that Rev. Wright preaches about.  It’s what the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world believe in where they see “Whitey” holding us down under every rock and around every corner.  A honked horn is a racial attack and not merely a notification from one auto to another in traffic. 


Sure, the America that WAS has flaws.  But that’s where the disconnect with what I believe to be the vast majority of Americans exists—because the vast majority know the America that COULD BE and sees THAT America in the America that IS winning out over the America that WAS.  And I think that’s what worries people about Mr. Obama.  He came from a place  that was intimately aware of the America that WAS and that seems to have trouble seeing the America that COULD BE in the milieu that is the America that IS.


That’s the conversation that needs to be had.  Not some ignorance about whether or not someone will wear some stupid button.


Blogger K said...

You've got my vote!

I like to think of it this way... I help because I can, not because I have to. I help because I should not because the government tells me to. I help because it is the most right thing to do, not because you are expecting a hand-out.

I accept the help, not because I expect you to help me, but because you offered and because it helps to make America what it could be.

Awesome post. Truly!

5:41 PM  
Blogger K said...

one more thing I forgot...

I help myself, because I have been raised to care for my family, my friends, my neighbors, and even my enemies. I am the one responsible for myself. I am the one responsible for those around me. Not because you say I am, but because that is what I am called to do.

I am
I can
I ought
I will
(Charlotte Mason)

5:43 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home