Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about the ambiguity of racism in America, the paranoia regarding Barack Obama and the disrespect paid to this President from folks with questionable motives. America is like the person with a troubled background who refuses to go into analysis and get some help. Every now and then, an issue causes us to talk about our troubled background, our troubled racial history, but the conversation is short lived and ultimately fruitless. We reach no epiphanies that set us straight long term.
From the moment that candidate Barack Obama made the famous “race speech” last year, we should have been able to predict that as long as Obama was an important player on the national scene, race would not go away. Still, I was naive. I thought once he won the election, if for no other reason than political correctness, we’d clean up our act racially. Recent weeks have proved me wrong. The events have escalated. A quick recap:
Shortly after South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson shouted “You lie” at the President during a joint session of Congress, a Glenn Beck instigated protest march on Washington took place on September 12. This was a tie-in to Beck’s 9-12 initiative which was designed to bring back the sense of common purpose that we had the day after the 9-11 attack on our country. To say that the demonstration on September 12 was divisive is to put it mildly. Here is a small sampling of signs carried during the gathering:
Editor’s note: The actual images have been removed in response to a copyright challenge. Simple descriptions will have to do. I have linked each description to the original image. These links will work for as long as the folks who posted them keep them public:
The protest signs became a Rorschach test for America. Where some saw patriotic dissent, others saw blatant racism. Clearly, comparing Obama to an animal is at the very least dehumanizing. It is equally hard to deny that derogatory references to his Kenyan heritage carry a racial overtone. The other disturbing element is the thinly veiled threats of violence (“we came unarmed this time” and “cap congress”). The media latched onto this phenomenon for all it was worth. Republicans cried “race card”. Democrats, for the most part stayed strangely silent and the White House avoided the issue like the plague.
Then a prominent Democrat, humanitarian and former President of the United States weighed in:
The rub here was that this was not some “Northern snob” talking down to Southerners. This was a man raised entirely in the South … some 85 years of experience. Jimmy Carter knows racial bigotry when he sees it and Carter declared without hesitation that racism was stoking some of the 9-12 demonstration. The reaction by defensive conservatives was that Carter was wrong to label the Tea Party/Healthcare protest as racist. But of course that is not what Carter did. He simply pointed out that the folks in the crowd who waddled like ducks and quacked like ducks were indeed ducks. A great many of the folks in the crowd may have had legitimate concerns (too much government, spending out of control, etc.) but they were drowned out by the attention getters and the current climate allowed those folks to get attention in the worst way possible.
When we combine the signage with this new phenomenon of people bringing guns to rallies, sometimes taking place outside of Obama speaking venues, we get a volatile cocktail that finally moved the Speaker of the House to express her concerns:
Pelosi went on to say that incendiary language might provoke unbalanced people to take violent action. Her experience in late 70’s San Francisco, with the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk fueled her concern.
And so here we are, finally dealing with the ultimate question of whether the current climate endangers the life of the President. Whether you view this question as melodrama or not, there is no doubt that America is going through a period of self-examination. Self-examination that I should have known was inevitable when Barack Obama was elected. As I look at the discussions that revolve around this self-analysis, I see everything from confessions to angry denial that there is any problem at all.
America is on the psychiatrist’s couch wrestling with its demons in front of the entire world. Republicans who want to deny there is a problem and Democrats who would rather just see the problem disappear without discussion make it very unlikely that we will find a cure to what ails us. It makes me wonder if we should just bury the wound deep underground again and hope that by ignoring it, we can avoid its consequences. Or should we keep talking with the risk that such talk will only further polarize the nation, sending everyone to their respective corners and increase the climate of danger just over the horizon?
This post is not about conclusions as much as it is about questions. What are we to do? Can our nation ever resolve and repair its birth defect? Will we have to learn through another tragedy to finally abandon old prejudices or will we see the light before harm is done? It is interesting that while Congress debates health care reform, our country is going through an entirely different health care crisis, one involving our mental health.
If our collective mental health fails us, there is no insurance policy that can make it right.