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October 5, 2010

Anger Divides These United States

Roy Meachum

In counterpoint to the Tea Party rally on Washington’s Mall in late August, various organizations, especially the N.A.A.C.P. and labor unions, showed up Saturday.


Both rallies were proclaimed non-partisan, although, of course, radically conservative Fox News’ Glenn Beck rallied his viewers, listeners and others on the date Martin Luther King, Jr., led the greatest civil rights event in the nation’s history. No one was out in front this weekend. Tea Partiers blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; although she did appear on the rostrum.


Mr. Beck decreed he was attended by 500,000; the unofficial estimate by more conservative reporters said 175,000 could have attended Saturday’s bash. Police no longer get into the business of estimating crowds. The first Anti-Vietnam protest marched on the Pentagon; the Army photographed and counted the pinheads from its overhead camera: 54,000. I covered for Washington’s TV-9 that Saturday, and all I knew was that there were people in overabundance – as far as my camera and eye could see.


Maybe self-generated by the chief organizer, the publicity in all the media was greater than the counter-demonstration. Mr. Beck pronounced he meant to honor America’s soldiers. As far as I read and understand, more than 400 organizations appeared to have no single honoree; they were extremely heterogeneous, from rock-solid small-c conservative southern Baptists to the Service Employees International Union, described by critics as criminally liberal.


From both rallies, as an observer who does not totally agree with either the Tea Partiers or Saturday’s organizers, I shake my bald head. Every old man in my life, heading for the grave, has warned the world is heading for hell, in a rented wheelbarrow. I certainly feel that way.


In the process of writing my memoirs, I can testify my memory extends comfortably into the years right before World War II; despite friend’s joking I was not a contemporary of Aristotle; Egypt’s great pyramids went up without me. But as far as my recollections and my knowledge of history recall, my beloved nation is the most severely riven since the foregathers brought into existence these United States.


The pre-Civil War years come to mind, but this is gravely worse. In those bad old days, the division among Americans was demographic and economic; despite its fierce advocates’ contention, slavery was not an emotional or ideological issue. Later termed the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln did not go to war after Fort Sumter to free men, women and children consigned to bondage. Liberation came later, as a means to weaken Jefferson Davis and the rebels; that’s why President Lincoln did not issue his manifesto until several months past the Battle of Gettysburg – more than two years after Confederate Gen. Pierre Toussaint Beauregard attacked the flag he swore to uphold, along with the U.S. Constitution.


A colleague wrote reversion to the political system in ancient Athens could help; citizens gathered in the Agora market place to vote themselves directly on questions. (That’s how Socrates was ordered to drink the deadly poison, hemlock; the charges primarily were corrupting youths of the city-state. Stories had him the victim of crowd manipulation by his enemies. In fact, fellow philosopher Plato and others made elaborate plans for him to escape to no avail. Socrates eagerly rushed to death, to uphold a point in his general argument.)


Patricia A. Kelly said we should abandon the republican form of government the Founding Fathers adopted, mainly because George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and their fellow aristocrats did not trust the people; Greek, hoi polloi. To further my heresy, there is absolutely no evidence from their lives they truly believed every man, woman and child was created with “unalienable rights.” “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were generally restricted to their own class.


As a liberated member of the G.O.P., in any event, Ms. Kelly’s Thursday column stated her opinion. And forcefully.


Adopting Athenian democracy may be too late, even if it took effect yesterday, right after the demonstrations. Tea Partiers may believe the lingering chaos may result from heavy federal intervention in their lives. I long believed President George Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney and their cohorts forced the nation into totally unnecessary wars and disguised the cost by charging budgets of various agencies. Most of my best friends hold Barack Obama to blame. I saw last week the movie “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”


In the middle of creator Oliver Stone’s expected brilliant but repetitive script, in the part where star Michael Douglas reads the line about ordinary citizens refinancing mortgages to buy something more expensive than the money they had at hand, I sat up straight in my seat. I was upright when Mr. Stone made the point about people living in great expectation that salaries would always go higher.


The country’s financial institutions and lackadaisical government regulators are held to fault by voices, on the right and the left; and mine. But, as the blinding flash that toppled St. Paul out his saddle, on the Damascene Road, I came to see: Me and you, everybody around us, must bear responsibility for the national mess.


Not only bank presidents but run-of-the-mill citizens who insist on a lower and lower price, which forces competitive companies to export America’s jobs to other countries, where the costs are cheaper. Politicians who stay in office by going with the popular flow may be the least guilty.


At this end point, I fully expect at least words and maybe more substantial projectiles thrown in my direction, from left and right.


How dare I say the People, yes the People, should be convicted for the sorry state these United States find themselves at this moment. I do.


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