Sunday, January 10, 2021

In which I propose a way to bring America together again.

I had to tempt the Universe with last week's post, didn't I? "Keep calm until there's real news," I said. Should have kept my mouth shut.

Not that I'm taking responsibility for the insurrection at the US Capitol on Wednesday. A crowd of President Trump's supporters, egged on by Trump himself, marched on the Capitol building as members of Congress and Senators inside were validating the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Hundreds of them broke into the building itself, and some of them went on a hunt through the building for lawmakers. Among their targets, reportedly, was Vice President Pence, because he would not acquiesce to Trump's demand that he figure out a way -- legal or not -- to invalidate the election returns and declare Trump president for another four years.

No, the blame for this, as far as I'm concerned, is all on Trump. He's responsible for the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer (and possibly another Capitol Police officer who died yesterday, reportedly by suicide). He's responsible for the physical damage his supporters caused to the historic building during their rampage. He's responsible for the emotional trauma he caused the members of Congress who were locked down for hours while the building was cleared -- and who then had to go back to work and finish their job. And if anyone who works at the Capitol -- lawmakers and staff -- catches the virus due to the maskless yahoos who forced their way into the building, I'm holding him responsible for that, too.

And he's leaving an even bigger mess for Biden once he takes office. Not only must he get a handle on the spread of the virus, oversee distribution of the vaccines, and turn the economy around, but now he needs to consider whether to direct the Justice Department to go after his predecessor for his crimes.

Biden promised to unify Americans, and Trump's not interested in making it easy for him.

But it's this idea of unity that interests me tonight, and what it would take to get us there. 

Some commentators have called Trump's hardcore followers a cult. If that's true -- and I think there's a lot to recommend that view -- then it follows that to truly bring the nation back together, deprogramming is in order. But where to start?

I believe we may have to go back to the very founding of our nation. 

I shared this post on Facebook earlier today, and it got me thinking. The post is about four years old, but the author describes himself as poor Mexican who grew up in a rural town in Oklahoma. He observes that poor, white Americans don't see themselves as poor, but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." "It is shameful to be poor," he says. "Most men, especially, think they could be Trump were it not for the unfair obstacles put in their way." And when people like Trump point fingers at immigrants or Blacks or Muslims as undeserving, poor folks go along with it because "it takes all the shame and blame away."

"If these people saw themselves as an exploited class of people, if American culture didn't stigmatize poverty so much, it might be different," he says. "To fail to transcend poverty, and to admit you are poor, is to admit you are neither hardworking (n)or clever. It's cultural brainwashing."

Wikipedia | Public Domain
Where does this belief come from? From the very first immigrants to our shores. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German sociologist Max Weber proposed the idea that Protestantism, and in particular Calvinism, created the seeds of capitalism by praising hard work and discipline as virtues. Of course, many of America's earliest settlers were Protestants fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Unfortunately, they brought their own brand of religious persecution with them; it's a short step from "hard work is a virtue" to judging people who can't get ahead as lazy. And that brings on the kind of self-loathing that the Facebook post above describes -- as well as a desire to find someone, anyone, to blame one's perceived failure on.

Moreover, in recent decades, certain Protestant preachers have made a lot of money touting prosperity theology -- the idea that God wants you to be rich, and therefore happy. Not only is it okay to want to be rich, they proclaim, but if you're not -- well. It's a personal failing. You need to believe harder. And sliding the preacher some cash couldn't hurt.

When I shared that Facebook post, I said, "Just think: If our culture (including the allegedly Christian preachers who tout their 'prosperity gospel') had never made poverty a moral failing, Trump wouldn't have been able to gain a toehold in the first place." Because what he did was to hand poor folks a whole host of targets to transfer their self-loathing to -- immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, and "Mexicans."

It's a sickness, for sure. And it's ingrained so deeply in American culture that it may well take something like deprogramming to root out.

A friend asked me what I thought it would take to get it done. I replied that we'd need "a repudiation of the disinformation by those who've been spreading it, for starters -- not shutting down Fox News/OANN/whoever, but convincing them to admit it's all been a hoax. But the churches that have been preaching damnation for the lazy poor, and the ones preaching that Jesus favors the rich, need to admit their part in it, too.

"And then we need to have a big ol' program in place to help folks sort through the cognitive dissonance when everything they've been led to believe has been cut out from under them."

And I said doing what needed to be done to get the right-wing media and the prosperity-gospel peddlers on board would probably be unconstitutional. It's clear to me they wouldn't do it willingly -- they're making too much money by fleecing these folks.

The likelihood of any of this happening is vanishingly small. But as I said to my friend, "I can dream, can't I?"


These moments of dreamy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep those masks on and keep staying home!

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