Friday, September 4, 2009

How Far We Have Not Come

In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, Twitter, pod-casts and the like, it seems Americans have run out of substantive things to say. One could argue that giving "everyone" a medium to express themselves might not have been the best thing after all. It is almost impossible to turn on the television and simultaneously fight the urge to become cynical about the direction of our nation. Everyday, lately, more and more attention is given to right-wing "Astro-turf" groups bombarding the health care debate. The Glenn Becks of the world are multiplying and the Edward R. Murrows are becoming extinct. America needs to flip on a signal light and throw a "U-ey" ASAP! The utter lack of respect we have relegated ourselves to is shameful.

I remember a time, not long ago, when end-of-the-spectrum egocentrics had a platform. It was called AM radio, and it gave them all day long to spew their extremist nonsense to a base of, say, twenty people. Families gathered Friday night and watched TGIF without commenting on the political implications of Steve Urkel cloning himself. The idea of disrespecting an elected official was rare and frankly unheard of. Criticism was delivered via civil discourse and not shouted at someone in a public forum. No matter what you may have thought of them behind closed doors, it was poor taste to bring that speech outside of the home. One could argue that technology has made us stupid and complacent, to which some blame could be delegated. The predominant culpability, however, is our own. Our apathetic fabrication of complacency has contributed to the lack of common courtesy in our country.

I was baffled to see the news of people in uproar over President Obama's address to grade-school children. The white house has to "pitch" the idea of a presidential address to the nation's schools. Pardon my poor use of language but are you freaking kidding me? The president has taken time out of his schedule to address a bunch of kids, who can't even vote, about the importance of working hard, staying in school, and becoming active in their communities and there's a question of the politics behind it? What the hell is wrong with people? There was no uproar when President Bush Sr. addressed schools, nor were people upset about Regan's school-time address. They were even okay with President Bush reading a book while New York and DC were under attack. The audacity that people must possess to even suggest they need to "review" his address before deciding if it's sensible enough to show to their kids. Why are we even giving these people airtime? He's the President! Whether he wants to address schools, churches, or Porto-potties it should be his prerogative. I'm sorry but I don't see how knowing that the President of the United States, yes including Texas, is counting on you to excel in your education is a bad thing for someone to hear.

America, we used to be better. The blatant disrespect of this president and his administration should not be tolerated. Criticism is one thing, but we have sank into an abyss of tawdriness. We don't even treat each other with common courtesy anymore. This past week, at one of the famous-but shouldn't be-town hall meetings, a sick woman in a wheelchair was berated with abhorrent rudeness from the audience. She sat calmly and prefaced her question while people shouted at her like she was a dog. Is this how we treat people now? Are we so self-absorbed that we don't care if we hurt others? Are we so polarized that we're reinventing ourselves into the new Montagues & Capulets, destined to bury ourselves in our own hatred?

We need an attitude adjustment; whatever has taken us down this road of verbal diarrhea needs a fierce application of Pepto Bismol. We need to stop being so self-important, stop living in blissful ignorance and start to relate to each other again in a way that doesn't involve 140 characters or less.

We need to acknowledge and own up to the prevalent existence of racism, homophobia and bigotry. We enable outright rudeness by standing idly and shaking our heads while people rip each other apart. This must stop! Bullies get power not from their victims, but from their audiences, people who do nothing. The right-wing and the bible-freaks aren't our greatest enemies; complacency is the thing that will tear our civilization apart. Albert Einstein said it best, “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it.”

Why step up on this soapbox? It's not that I hate this country, on the contrary, I love this country. I love it for its history, its great potential and it's pride. I love it because its the only way to truly change it. You will fight for something you love before you'll fight for something you hate. Conservatives are always going on about progressives being un-American but it's the other way around. The very definition of progress should speak for itself. History is on our side and we have the chance to create a better tomorrow. Let's make sure we get there by shaking our brother's hands instead of stepping on them.

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