There's a billboard on a stretch of Interstate 70 near Blue Springs, Missouri, that exemplifies what I think is wrong in this country today.
It's composed of a red background, with a large hammer and sickle on the right side, and the following message in yellow:
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR CHANGE NOW???
They are coming for you! The Taxpayer.
1st & 2nd Amendments are in jeopardy.
LIVE FREE OR DIE
Nobody seems to know who's behind the sign. It was reported on a local TV station October 1, and picked up by various national blogs just days later. The tag line isn't new; there are plenty of places where you can get coffee mugs and other merchandise that parrots the same sentiment.
So what's wrong with this expression of free speech anyway? Can't people still freely express themselves in writing?
You betcha! And there isn't even an obligation to get your facts straight. Never let it be said that people expressing themselves need to be limited by the world as it really is!
And that is what I'm talking about. What's wrong in this country today is that we're living in a fantasy land.
Look at these things, and see if you agree.
In the current recession I've heard that over five trillion dollars of wealth was lost in the fall of the stocks and bonds markets. Is that real wealth? Really? If it were something tangible, what would be required to utterly destroy five trillion dollars worth of it? That's not wealth--it's a phantasm, an illusion of wealth. If I were viewing it from a pathology standpoint, I'd say it was a delusion, at best.
Barack Obama and the Democrats carried the 2008 national election. They won by substantial margins in most cases. People like the sponsor of that billboard are in denial about this fact. They don't believe that the electorate of the United States actually said what they did--that the last eight years had gone badly, and that it was time for a change in leadership. They will not accept the decision of the majority of voters. Sorry, but that's the way that a democracy works--you know, the will of the people and all that.
The sponsors of the billboard moreover are living in a wonderland of their own, by imagining that the President is a communist. Or a socialist. Or a member of some group they don't like. That last part may well be true. Obama's opponents do not like him or the groups of which he's part. Those groups may be Democrats, liberals, educated people, people of mixed race, or whatever. Whatever the name of the group in question, these folks don't like it.
I need to ask very pointedly if these opponents of the current administration really know what a communist is. Or a socialist, for that matter. There has been a government presence, to one degree or another, in our national economy and our national society for decades now. It is not going to end because the opponents call it "socialist" or "communist" or any other disparaging name.
More to the point, what these folks oppose is that very government presence. I thought we had settled all that shortly after the ratification of the Constitution. I guess I was wrong. Every generation we have to learn anew that the tree of liberty is best planted in the soil of a nation, not in the desert of libertarian anarchy.
Do I sound too hostile to the ideals of libertarianism? I probably do, if you're a libertarian. Frankly, I've examined libertarian philosophy, and I find it laughable that people think you could build a viable society on its principles. Human beings are social beings--that means that we live best and most comfortably in groups. Groups need organizing principles and some degree of regulation to function best. There is always a tension between the rights of the individuals and the rights and requirements of the group. That tension has not been eliminated in the twenty-first century, and I doubt if it ever will be, as long as we humans are human.
But, to return to the issue at hand, we in the United States are too often living in a fantasy land of our own construction. For instance, it might be good to remember that the economic stimulus bill was passed under the aegis of a Republican administration, to address circumstances that were exceptional to say the least. And to some extent, those exceptional circumstances were the direct result of other delusions that we had allowed to come into common acceptance, delusions like thinking you could have what you want, when you want it, and not have to worry about paying for it. Delusions like thinking that at one and the same time you could criticize the government for being too governmental and depend upon that same institution to fight terrorism and protect you and this nation. Government in this delusion is seen as both the great problem and the only solution. That's more than delusion, actually; that's insanity.
We sing the National Anthem, about the "land of the free, and the home of the brave." Are we really all those things? We're hardly free--we're slaves to our illusions about the world, to the debt that we incurred on our own heads, to our hatred for any other person, even another American, who is different from us. Are we really brave, or are we cringing in fear at the possibility of having to change the way we live? We have the terrorist threat level; that's a great measure of the bravery we all feel. We're driven to a frenzy by fear mongers on the left and the right. Shame on them! We deserve better than this.
This country has had periods in its past when we had to look unflinchingly at the world as it was, and take dramatic steps to address the crises that we faced. We went through the Civil War to keep our Union together. We survived the Great Depression by united and concerted action. We instituted the Marshall Plan after World War II to keep Europe from descending into another death spiral that would ferment and bring about World War III. We have acted on principle in the past--are we still a people who can do that now? Well, are we?
Even in those times of crisis, there were those among us who were timid or worse, who refused to meet the challenge bravely, but instead preferred to snipe and badger and try to derail the efforts underway. Some of these people earned the name "traitor." Whatever they were called, though, the result was the same--they were on the wrong side, and they lost.
I view the world through the lens that my Christian faith provides. I don't believe that there is anyone in the world today, or at any time in the past, who was perfect or the answer to all problems, with one important exception. And we humans nailed him to a tree and watched him die. We're a messy bunch, and always have been. Sometimes, though, we have moments when things click and we get important things done. We're facing opportunities like that now. Are we really up to the challenge?
What do you think? Post a comment, and share your thoughts.