Friday, September 11, 2009

The Fractured States of America

I start to write this having just come from a 9/11 memorial at the fire station, which is kind of ironic considering the subject material. That’s because September 11, 2001 was the day that brought us all together after a contentious 2000 presidential election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote but not the electoral vote. More than half the country had a president it didn’t vote for. Everybody was either Red State or Blue State. We weren’t America anymore. Things were starting to get a little ugly.

But that all changed when some extremist lunatics vaporized nearly 3,000 American civilians on a beautiful sunny Tuesday morning.

Suddenly, American flags were everywhere: on homes, on buildings, sticking out of car windows, hanging off of bridge overpasses. People were donating money by the millions to the Red Cross and other charitable organizations, to help the victims and their families. We were all a little more polite, a little more patient, a little more tolerant. I think we just didn’t know when a plane was going to scream out of the sky into our kitchen, and we didn’t want our last moments on Earth or the last impression on the people around us to be that of an angry jerk.

So we were all on the same page again, with the exception of some wack-a-loons who probably still think 9/11 was an inside job. We invaded Iraq, invaded Afghanistan, killed off most of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, caught and killed Saddam Hussein, bought houses and big flat-screen TVs, put magnets supporting our troops on the backs of our SUVs, and America was great again.

Then we figured out there was no way out of Iraq and that we didn’t do enough in Afghanistan. Then we had another election, and though that one wasn’t as close as 2000, it was probably more rancorous, reopening those Red State/Blue State wounds. Then gasoline went up over 4 dollars a gallon. Then we found out about secret prisons where the people we captured in Iraq and Afghanistan were abused and tortured. We still had no way out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and more and more of our soldiers were dying. We still hadn’t found Bin Laden. People started pointing fingers again. Then the economy tanked—big time—and that was the final straw. We found out that if you hit Americans in their pocketbooks, nothing else really matters. The gloves come off. The left blamed the right for allowing and encouraging all the corruption and greed in Corporate America. The right blamed the left for pushing into houses people that couldn’t afford mortgages, thereby nearly destroying the banking and real estate industries. The president at the time was on his way out, a lame duck who was not going to be able to do thing one about very much at all.

Enter the 2008 election. Now I will state up front that I voted for Barack Obama, but that I would have been, with the exception of knowing Sarah Palin was a 73-year old heartbeat away from the presidency, very comfortable with John McCain as president. I think he’s a good and decent man, just as I think Obama is. But people couldn’t see that. The campaign was broken down to The Empty Suit vs. More Of The Same. It was All Talk, No Action vs. the Grumpy Old Man. And when Obama won, it seemed that, finally, while not a landslide by any means, there seemed to actually be a general feeling of relief that it was over, and a chance for fresh start. Even the classy McCain tried to impart a spirit of cooperation with his concession speech, saying he’d work with the President however he could, and scolding those who booed.

Well, here we are less than eight months into BHO’s presidency, and any feelings of optimism and cooperation have been completely flushed down the toilet. We’ve gone Thelma and Louise into a divide that might not be able to be repaired. Ever.

And the evidence of having reached that divide is stark: I present the boorish behavior of Congressmen Joe Wilson of South Carolina and John Shimkus of—you guessed it—Illinois. During the President’s health care address to a joint session of Congress, Wilson shouted “You LIE!” in the middle of the speech, in front of the whole world. And Shimkus flat got up and walked out. Now, whether you agree with Wilson and Shimkus or not, those are just things you don’t do—at least, apparently, up until now.

Congressman Wilson apologized almost immediately, saying his emotions got the better of him. But a lot of people defended him, saying the breach of respect was justified. And how many of the Republicans who professed dismay over Wilson’s outburst were actually secretly wishing they had the church bells to do that? There was actually such little fallout because of his immediate apology and the President’s subsequent acceptance, that, in fact, the next day, Wilson said that while he stood by his apology, he defiantly said in a web video seeking campaign donations that he wasn’t going to back down from his attacks. Shimkus’s mouthpiece, meanwhile said the Congressman left after hearing the president repeat "an accumulation of rehashed talking points." Nice.

That’s certainly their Founding Fathers-given rights, but I fear the lack of consequences will further embolden those who believe Wilson and Shimkus were justified in their behavior and lead to a complete catastrophic breakdown of any remaining decorum in this country. I’m not just pointing at the right, either. When people on the left do it in the future—and they will—the right will naturally complain, but the excuse will be the ever-popular (and mature!) defense: “but you did it too!”

What bothers me most is that the number of people with whom you can have a logical, reasonable discussion about the issues is evaporating rapidly. It used to be that the only ideologues out there were politicians, old people and college students. But now you can’t talk to a soccer mom without discovering in about point-three seconds where she stands on health care, even if you’re discussing plans for the PTA fundraiser. (Here’s how any phone conversation with my dad can go, by the way—Dad: “So how’s everybody?” Me: “Pretty good. The girls have swimming coming up, and then we’re going to…” Dad [interrupting]: “Yeah, so how about that Nancy f*cking Pelosi. That’s one scary broad. You see what she and Harry Reid are trying to stick in that health care bill?” This is no exaggeration. Except for him interrupting. He might let me finish my sentence.) Either you’re right or you’re left, you’re right or you’re wrong, you goose-step to Rush or guzzle the Olbermann-Aide, and if you don’t agree with me, I’m going to yell at you and insult you until we part ways or come to blows.

And it’s making me very afraid of what’s next. Obviously, any civility or decency in a public forum is completely out the window. The town hall meetings on health care have been bad enough. But with Wilson’s scot-free verbal assault in the middle of the President’s address in the middle of the House of Representatives, it’s just going to get that much worse. You’re going to see a lot more personal attacks on not only our elected officials, but among other people in the room who are in disagreement. You’re going to see a lot more verbally along the lines of what you might have in the past only read in anonymous online comments. If there haven’t already been—and I suspect there have—you’ll see flat-out fistfights at these things. And what’s going to happen when the President makes an appearance somewhere—anywhere? After all, aside, perhaps, from a courtroom, church or funeral parlor, there is no place that’s even close to requiring the decorum expected inside the U.S. Capitol. So what happens when the President makes a campaign stop at a Chick-Fil-A on Main Street, USA? Are we going to see someone HERE throwing a shoe?

Or, perhaps, the unthinkable: someone throwing a bullet?

In fact, I made that comment just last night. I would not be surprised if, in the next three months, somebody takes a shot at him. And then, Katie Rose bar the door.

Somebody won’t go after him because he’s a Democrat. Somebody won’t go after him because of the Economic Stimulus Bill. Somebody won’t go after him because of health care reform. Somebody won’t go after him because of the silliness over his birth certificate. And somebody won’t go after him because he’s black, either, although that will likely be the perception, thus triggering a race war in this country that will make Watts look like a charity picnic.

Somebody will do it because his “emotions got the better of him.” And nothing is off the table anymore.

So to answer the long standing question posed by Rodney King in the wake of the L.A. riots, “Can’ t we all just get along?”—

No. No, we can’t. Sorry, Mr. King. And that means, like all great civilizations that collapse and die under the weight of their own corruption, greed and internal strife, the beginning of the end is, in my humble opinion, coming sooner rather than later for the Fractured States of America.