Repairing the Deep Alienation in Our Land
A commonly expressed hope following the tragedy in Tucson is that our public discourse will become more civil. President Obama’s speech certainly called on all of us to reflect on our common values and to make our democratic practices as good as those imagined by the 9 year old Christina Green. I don’t think we could have expected more from our national leader, or should he have asked less from us. The question is whether this event will save us from the deep alienation in our land.
And what is the deep alienation? It is an alienation that not even a civil war, a civil rights movement, or the election of Barak Obama has overcome. It is the color divide: the divide between white and non-white citizens. It has been with us since the beginning; it is enshrined in our Constitution (slaves counted as 3/5th of a person); and it is what drives much of our current political discourse. My guess is that tragedies or other types of events will not save us from this alienation. We will have to save ourselves by doing the hard work of engaging in difficult conversations about what kind of people we want to become.
Didn’t it seem strange that the mostly white audience at the memorial service clapped and cheered throughout President Obama’s talk? How should we interpret this? At some level, could it have been an expression of a deep desire to become one people, to move beyond the national white/non-white division? Who would not like this deep hole in our national soul to be repaired? This repair, however, takes much more than a desire. It takes work. It takes changes in national priorities, so a killing in Oakland, California is as important as a killing in Pakistan, so keeping jobs in the United States is as important as corporate profits, so our civic rights have priority over property rights.
Early on in President Obama’s tenure, he attempted to address this deep divide in our nation. I assume he discovered that we were not ready for it. Given the rise of the Tea Party and other right wing groups, it appears he was right. For every step forward, we seem to take another step back. We just have to keep walking, and try to make the forward steps a bit larger than the steps backwards. I think Martin Luther King would tell us today to “Walk on.”