(The following is an editorial that appeared in the April 30th edition of the Granite State News. )
Like many of our readers, we find the current state of our nation deeply disturbing. We are not thinking of the riots in Baltimore, the end of the Boston Marathon bombing trial or the start of the trial of the mass murderer of Aurora, Colorado – these events just the symptoms of a much more troubling national malaise.
We are a nation turning in upon itself. Wedge issues are created one after another to drive us apart, to feed our fears and stoke hatred and intolerance. If you listen carefully the most outspoken among us are complaining about the same issues but in ways that obscure rather than illuminate our common problems. Every issue is polarized and overstated in stark, uncompromising terms that block any possible dialogue. We shout at each other and don’t listen.
Our politics reflect this self-consuming, impotent rage. Our political institutions accomplish very little and our political parties offer no vision for the future. Everything political is here and now and politicians play zero-sum games that no one wins. Money pours into political campaigns and the few people who vote elect those who have the most money behind them and who manage to convince us they are the lesser of two evils. In the end it appears that the goal of politics and the billions invested in it is simply to protect the status quo.
This is not the country we were born into and it is not the nation envisioned in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.
While the people who founded this country spoke and wrote about freedom and individual rights, they did so in the context of establishing inter-related communities and states formed by free association. Being opposed to a form of government based on a hereditary monarchy and a class-based system of representation, they were wary of anyone elevating himself and acting purely from self-interest. It is no coincidence that three of the original 13 states (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia) formed themselves as Commonwealths. The states of Delaware and Vermont also refer to themselves as commonwealths in their constitutions. Beyond the legal definition of “a government based on the common consent of the people,” commonwealth also conveys that the government embodies the common wealth of its citizens.
In other words, when it came to government, our founders did not think of “us” vs. “them” because government was supposed to be “us.” We pooled our ideas, our energies and part of our earnings to build roads, churches and schools and to create rules and laws to benefit everyone.
Today it is worse than “us” vs. “them” – it’s “me” vs. “them.” Our politics push for the rights of individuals over not only the government but the rights of others. We form cults of personality, absorbed with celebrities whose only claim to fame is that they are celebrities. Our spiritual leaders are people like Timothy Leary and Ayn Rand who preach selfishness and self-absorption and decry government and any law that interferes with their ability to do anything they want, regardless of how it injures or lessens the common good.
In the 18th century, when all of the colonists who formed this country came from Europe, the main difference that existed between the various groups of immigrants was religion, and it is clear to us that the reason why the Constitution embodies the principle of separation of church and state is that religious differences were seen as divisive, and if the new government was to survive it needed to recognize that there was diversity and to accommodate it.
If one had to cite one factor that shaped this nation and brought it to greatness, it has been the diversity of its citizens and their willingness to accept differences, find common interests and set common goals. It was not an easy path over the years, and we had to endure a civil war to settle some differences, but the desire to find common ground and achieve common goals has kept the nation together and made it grow into a world power.
We need to reaffirm the need to find common ground and commit ourself once more to the principle that we are all in this together. Working together we have achieved great things in the past and endured and prospered despite withering challenges.
We all need to commit ourselves to finding common ground and not let ideology and hatemongers drive us apart. If we don’t make that commitment, the instability and inequities we see now will only worsen and our democracy will fail.