The Decay of Decency in Civil Society

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One of the good things about being a lame duck president is you don’t have to follow decorum as much as you did when you were concerned about getting re-elected.  The leader of the free world can finally let their hair down and express what’s really been bothering them.  Obama has been doing this lately; pressing what most of us have been saying over the last 4-5 years about the GOP leadership, especially in my home state of Texas.  It’s troubling to many of us that we’ve become as divisive as we were prior to the Civil War and that the tenuous state of our democracy is becoming unraveled.

It’s not that there hasn’t been the rabble-rousers and hate mongers amongst us since the birth of this nation, many who’ve felt justified based on their perceptions of reality, mainly stoked by excessive fear.  There will always be a sense by some that changes will rob us of a heritage we had.  That is, once you ignore how western white Europeans slowly annihilated the various native American cultures that were here before them.

But that idea is more true for more ancient singular cultures.  America has always been a blend of cultures and separate from ancient times.

This reaction between whiter humans and darker skinned ones is at the core of our divisiveness.  It was the slavery issue in 19th century America, Civil Rights in the 20th century and now along with illegal (and sadly many legal) Hispanic, Muslims and black Americans, once again this disease has revived itself in a way that makes many of us think that there is no cure.

The one force that perhaps could have and should have removed the contempt white people have for darker skin races has in fact perpetuated and allowed it to inculcate itself into the American culture we now find ourselves with.  Religion, the once great moral force of early Christians that changed the face of western Europe has itself become too often a refuge for scoundrels who have cherry-picked their scriptures to justify their contempt for most non-white races.

My earliest recollection of this was my freshman college year.  I took a basic Sociology course during the early 1970’s.  Civil Rights was still trying to etch itself into the daily experience of our society with much rancor still being heard from the traditional sources of segregation.  To address this our professor invited the Texas state Klu Klux Klan leader to present a perspective that justified this segregated mode of thought.

To all of our surprise this elderly, grand-mother figure walked in with silver-blue hair and began quoting parts of biblical scripture that justified the separation of the races and the superiority of the white race.  Without any detection of hypocrisy or hyperbole on her part Ms. Dixie Leber (Leber is rebel spelled backwards), her real legally altered name,  explained to us how God chose to separate the day and night in Genesis 1:8 “and thus it is”, she said quite matter-of-factly, “with people”.  We chuckled among ourselves thinking is this a prelude to more misinterpretation of the bible to justify her hate but were even more surprised to find that this was all she had to offer.

I often amuse myself with “what-if” thoughts, thinking if so-and-so had or had not happened how would conditions be today.  What if the author of Genesis (and no, it wasn‘t God) had truly been inspired about how day and night occurred – the earth revolving around the Sun – would all the white people who used Genesis 1:8 to justify their sense of superiority over darker-skinned races might never ascend to influential positions in Christian culture, leaving it to be the force of positive change it’s founder intended it to be?

Rene Dubois, author of Beast or Angel: Choices That Make Us Human (Scribner, 1974) noted in his introduction that though “the world of things is obviously different now from what it was a half century ago” when he fled his native France to come to America, he doubted “that there have been basic changes in life itself, and by this I mean in those attitudes and activities, needs and yearnings, which are the most important for happiness and suffering, for hope and despair – in brief, for the differences between humanity and animality.”

Though I am sure Monsieur Dubois intended no degradation of the animal kingdom, it is the human in fact who kills their own kind and does so beyond a biological need to survive.  This instinct was most likely around before the creation of religions so it’s safe to say that its concept is embedded within those ancient scriptures that led many cultures to justify wars against other humans, especially those who didn’t look or think exactly like themselves.

This defect in one’s humanity prevails today in the likes of Trump and many of his supporters.  Many would deny it while some are simply embolden to declare it.  And as this flawed “boldness” becomes more pronounced it corrupts and infects once sensible, tolerant people, apparently because the gene that makes us hate “others” lies below the surface in each of us.

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Acceptance of immoral behavior by Trump supporters pushes the envelope

Like a Phoenix rising from its own ashes, human hatred of those different from themselves seems to be overtaking our nation once again.  Each time it does I worry that it becomes more entrenched and thus capable of overwhelming our society beyond a point where we can no longer regain any moral high ground.  The “shining city upon the hill” that Ronald Reagan once declared for America is slowly fading.

How ironic that such a statement came from a Republican who pursued policies that actually diminished this country’s great middle class, which began to peak under Dwight Eisenhower.  Blacks were beginning to see equality gains but were relegated to little more than “welfare queens” and “takers” as economic hard times once again saw them as last hired, first fired.

It was however the disastrous attack of 9/11 and the large economic fallout of 2008 that animus towards foreign immigrants from south of the border and middle eastern origins were elevated to a level of contempt that hasn’t been seen since southern slaves were freed and the Irish immigration of the earliest 20th century.

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Trump supporters’ message for immigrants

It was this animus that Trump exploited to get his foot in the door of a GOP presidential nomination and when many Americans shamelessly supported him he was further able to use misogyny as a tool to gain majorities in predominantly white male enclaves along with homophobia to garner support from conservatives Christians who would vacate their own family values to support him.

Polls show that Hillary is  extremely unpopular with conservatives, more often than  not for unfounded purposes.  Trump has demonized her to a level that is unconscionable as his own despicable moral weaknesses are ignored by supporters who are geared to tar and feather anyone who blocks Trump’s chances of victory.

So when President Obama denounces the practices Trump employs to gain public support, he is merely doing what conscientious journalism would have done in decades past.  But most of the major media sources today are owned by people who put profits over decency.  Because of their failure to be the watchdogs they have been expected to be, along with the failure of religious leaders and those within the Republican leadership itself, we have found ourself at that point which Edmund Burke dreaded over two centuries ago when he opined that “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

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