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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

America's Great Divide. Who will
have a seat at the political table?
Will there be any room at the Inn?

Politics - unity and respect

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There have been several recent articles talking about the "Great Divide" among the American people. Some are talking all around the central issues as they look for scapegoats --someone other than themselves to blame for the mess we are in. Both sides of the Divide do agree on one thing, we are in a mess!

Politicians of both parties are still trying to figure out what went wrong during the 2016-NOV presidential election. Clinton is on the record for blaming her loss on both Wikileaks and the FBI Director for his charges made shortly before the election -- but certainly not herself or her party’s positions and actions over the past several years. Trump, as one would expect, keeps fueling the divisions with his late night tweets ranting about one person or group or another. Meanwhile, many Republicans in Congress just can’t bring themselves to support his full agenda. They don’t see him as a Republican, but an interloper.

I had lunch with some old friends last week and one of the older women sighed and said she just wished people would give Trump a chance. I almost choked on my food. I kept quiet, but I wanted to ask her give him a chance to do what? Destroy what is left of the safety net that so many people depend on. What will happen with her son if the Affordable Care Act is changed and people with pre-existing conditions lose their coverage? Her own son will be in serious trouble.

I stumbled across an article by Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò on the Alternet website titled: "Trump Could Very Well Get Re-Elected—Unless the Opposition Can Find a Way to Change America". 1 When you read the article you realize he means that some American people must change.  

I thought that will never happen. We have to figure out how to work with what we have got AND try to better educate the next generations so they will naturally be:

  • more inclusive, generous, compassionate, and

  • less fearful, judgmental, hypocritical, self-centered, and self-righteous.

Another article by Patricia Miller on the Religion Dispatches website is titled "Archbishop Drops The Girl Scouts Amid Alarmist Rhetoric and Fake Accusations." 2 I thought: good grief, old men attacking little girls again. I remember a year ago the Catholic Church was up in arms (so to speak) because the Girl Scouts had a policy to deal with welcoming transgender girls to their program. Imagine that! A group that actually decided to reach out and offer support to children going through a difficult transition in their lives. What would be next?

Ms Miller reported that Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City said that the Girl Scouts were:

"... no longer a compatible partner in helping us form young women with the virtues and values of the Gospel,"

and that the organization’s programs and materials are:

"... reflective of many of the troubling trends in our secular culture." 2

I wondered just what are the "Gospel virtues and values" that he was talking about? I have written another essay recently about this topic "Traditional Virtues and Values." I think he must be reading a very different Bible from the one I read.  I am glad the Girl Scouts don’t embrace the "virtues and values" that he embraces!

In her article, Ms. Miller referred to an article at the New York Times, "The Collapse of American Identity" by Robert P. Jones May 2, 2017. 3 He lays out the dilemma quite clearly.

He says, "But recent survey data provides troubling evidence that a shared sense of national identity is unraveling, with two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party lines. At the heart of this divide are opposing reactions to changing demographics and culture. The shock waves from these transformations -- harnessed effectively by Donald Trump’s campaign -- are reorienting the political parties from the more familiar liberal-versus-conservative alignment to new poles of cultural pluralism and monism." 3

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Pluralism is the belief that many is better than one. Monism is the belief that there is ONLY one that has any value, not many. In politics this would mean the Pluralists accept that there are a great diversity of political systems and ways of accomplishing goals. Monists accept only one political system and only one way to accomplish goals. In Philosophy/Religion the Pluralist accepts that there are many basic substances that make up reality and many Religions and secular philosophies that help to explain that reality. In Monism there is only one substance, only one true Religion, and only one explanation for and solution to every problem.

I have two points that I disagree with him on.

  • First the narratives are not "mutually exclusive" for both sides. The Democrats welcome the Republicans to their table and keep insisting there is room for all. It is the "room for all" concept that the Republicans object to and so they refuse to sit down with them. Democrats aren’t welcome at the Republican table unless they drastically change their ways.

To be fair that "room for all" is a MAJOR stumbling block for some folks. If they aren’t willing to accept that basic premise they will  find themselves sitting all alone at another table, watching all the others at the main table laughing, having fun, and enjoying each others company.

  • The second point is the part about Donald Trump’s campaign effectively harnessing the shock waves of these transformations. I am not sure I would give that campaign that much credit for what they did. Harnessing, implies intentional and deliberate action, a plan. Donald Trump is just a natural manipulator of people, he simply reacted to the dynamics of the moment. I don’t think he ever really contemplated what he was doing or why or where it would lead him. Harnessing also implies that you are in control of what you have harnessed, Trump isn’t in control of the forces he has "unleashed"!

Mr. Jones goes on to say:

"... over the past decade as the country has ceased to be a majority white Christian nation—from 54 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today. Democrats -- only 29 percent of whom are white and Christian -- are embracing these changes as central to their vision of an evolving American identity that is strengthened and renewed by diversity. By contrast, Republicans -- nearly three-quarters of whom identify as white and Christian -- see these changes eroding a core white Christian American identity and perceive themselves to be under siege as the country changes around them." 3

I was reminded of a book written many years ago "Future Shock" by Alvin Toffler. 4 If I remember it correctly it was predicting this would happen, people would be blindsided by the rapid changes in society, and unable to cope.

I realize however that one reason people have been caught off guard by these rapid changes is because they have intentionally isolated themselves from the larger society. They are Isolated:

  • By the places they choose to live: in rural America and small towns.

  • By the news they watch, the radio stations they listen to, the newspapers and magazines and books they read.

  • By what they were taught and what they allowed their children to be taught in their local controlled rural school districts.

  • By the colleges they attended, if they pursued a higher education.

A bit later Mr. Jones goes on to say:

"There have been other times in our history when the fabric of American identity was stretched in similar ways -- [during] the Civil War, heightened levels of immigration at the turn of the 20th century, and the cultural upheavals of the 1960’s.

The question at stake was whether they (White Christians) were going to make room for new groups at a table they still owned."

This reminds me of a Biblical story 5 of Mary and Joseph where there wasn’t any room at the Inn. Could there be a lesson to learn from that story? Perhaps. You never know who might come knocking on your door!

He continues:

"White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership in exchange for an equal seat."

I realized that is really the crux of the issue: the "exchange of ownership for an equal seat".

How do you change people? -- get them to accept the inevitable, surrender their ownership and control of who gets to sit at the table, in return for a chance to sit at the table with everyone else -- with all those "others" that they would have preferred to keep away?

There is actually some good advice to be found for them in their Bibles. It is advice that has been warning them that such a time might come. IF they want to be able to deal with the changes they should act now. They should treat others as they wish to be treated themselves, because they were once strangers in a strange land!

Though the Bible doesn’t come right out and say it, the inference is there, for those with wisdom to see it. You may once again find yourselves wanting a seat at the table or a room at the Inn.

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Post Script:

So what is society to do. If Robert Jones' depiction of the problem is correct -- and I think it is -- how are the Pluralists that want to include everyone at the table going to change (as Mr. Tafwo suggests must be done in his article) the Monists that want to exclude some from the table (those "others", those that are different, those that don’t share their "values and virtues"--  like the Archbishop mentioned by Ms. Miller in her article)?

Is Religion the problem as some Atheists claim?  Or is it affected by an even deeper more fundamental problem? If Religion is affected by an even deeper problem the problem will still be there causing trouble even if Religion is removed from the table!

I think Religion is affected by the problem not the cause of the problem. The evidence for this is found in many places. Referring back to the articles mentioned in this essay, it can be seen in the statistics pointed out by Mr. Jones, 29% of the Democrats, the Pluralists that want to include all at the table, are White Christians. Mr. Jones points out that:

"By contrast, Republicans --nearly three-quarters of whom identify as white and Christian..." are the Monists wanting to exclude many from the table. If Religion was the problem there wouldn’t be that 29% on the Pluralist side of the divide. They have reached their point of understanding in spite of their Religion or perhaps their different understanding of Christianity helped them get there.

I think there is one underlying cause, it is wired into our DNA. It s FEAR--fear of the unknown, fear of that which is different, fear of insecurity, fear of change, fear that causes doubts, fear that you not only won’t be in control of who sits at the table but the fear that you will be the one left out -- not allowed a seat at the table or a room in the Inn.

You get rid of FEAR by three ways:

  • One: You exclude the cause of the fear from your midst by denying it a seat at the table as the Monists are trying to do.

  • Two: You remove the fear through education showing that the fear is ungrounded as the Pluralists try to do AND as they obviously need to become better at doing!

  • Three" You remove fears by providing a sense of security, a social safety net. The social safety net supplies a variety of jobs for different skill levels—right now we have too many jobs requiring high skill levels and not enough for lower skill levels that pay a living wage. You provide health care so a family isn’t wiped out by unforeseen health problems. You provide a variety of job training programs to fill those higher skilled jobs and to retrain workers that lose a job to automation or the movement of jobs to other countries. You provide child care and family planning services. You provide all of those things that help level the playing field so that all people have the opportunity to not just survive but to thrive.

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But doing so delegitimizes the Republicans and Monists fears. They can’t be shown to be wrong. Remember that in their minds there is only one answer and one solution to problems. They believe that government can’t work, AND they are afraid that if it does work it will take over and control every aspect of their lives.

So they keep trying to undermine the government and social programs by restricting funds as Paul Ryan did with the Obama health care plan payments to insurers to help cover their loses during the transition period, or by adding burdensome requirements such as voting restrictions and restrictions placed on abortion providers or by removing the programs altogether to prove that they are right! Goverrnment doesn’t work! The society is in a mess because it is full of bad people and they must keep those people away from the table and show them there is no room for them at the Inn.

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One last thought:

If the Pope can’t get his own people (like Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City) to become more broad -minded, how is anyone else going to change the mindset of the many other Religious leaders (of all faith traditions) and their followers that are just like him?

Especially when admitting that those "others"  that aren’t just like you are actually nice virtuous, moral folks and worthy of having a seat at the table or a room at the Inn is to admit that one foundational element of your Monistic Christian belief system is wrong -- Christians aren’t more exceptional, more worthy than other folk!

And that I think is really the crux of the matter!

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You might find the following topics in our web site of interest:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, "Trump Could Very Well Get Re-Elected—Unless the Opposition Can Find a Way to Change America," Alternet, 2017-APR-30, at: http://www.alternet.org/
  2. Patricia Miller, "Archbishop Drops The Girl Scouts Amid Alarmist Rhetoric and Fake Accusations," Religion Dispatches, 2017-MAY-02, at: http://religiondispatches.org/
  3. Robert P. Jones, "The Collapse of American Identity," New York Times, 2017-MAY-02, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
  4. book cover Alvin Toffler, "Future Shock" Bantam, 1984 (Reissued). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. Luke 2:7

 

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Author: Susan Humphreys
Originally posted on: 2017-JUN-14

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