Once upon a time, there was a belief in something called common courtesy. It included simple things like respecting elders, being polite to people, holding a door open for someone and saying please and thank you.
Somewhere along the way, there was a mutation into what is now labeled political correctness, the fear of saying or doing anything that might be misconstrued in the slightest way as insulting.
Strangled by these restrictions at work, people became more frustrated outside of “protected” areas. Backlash became harsher and meaner. Thoughts became grumbles. Concepts like equality began to be pushed back on as “reverse discrimination”.
Into this fray, the current GOP frontrunner, a clever and savvy orator, came to understand this growing unrest, most prominent in middle and lower middle class white Americans.
In a calculated series of comments and actions, he cultivated and encouraged that feeling of discontent. His rhetoric was tinged not with prosaic quotes and elegant literacy, but with a “working man’s” vocabulary of insults and insinuations.
He said what so many Americans say under their breath. He gave voice to a large population of Americans who blamed bad government for all their problems. Lost jobs, low wages, bad loans and an uncaring Washington, D.C.
The facts behind that candidate’s personal wealth or his actual qualifications didn’t matter as long as he “understood” how tough it was for the regular working Joe.
Emboldened by his success, he ratcheted up the volume. He made it clear that it was truly “us” versus “them”, pointing out whichever group made the most sense for the audience at hand. Mexicans, Muslims, Democrats, China; whatever target provided the most bang for his buck.
And the angry Americans who supported him roared their approval. In their eagerness and relief that someone finally heard them, they did not listen.
What was being preached to them was hate, not equality; divisiveness, not justice for all. In the upswell of hope that their lives would be made better, those supporters no longer cared about the lives of others.
This country has always struggled with self-hate. A nation built on immigrants and freedom was always going to have more differences than similarities. The very nature of our political system guaranteed those differences would always exist.
Over the years, however, the pursuit of happiness has given way to the pursuit of winning. It’s no longer enough for some people to succeed, others must also fail. And with that change has come the loss of common courtesy and simple human decency.
Oh, it’s not everyone, thank goodness for that. In a country of over 300 million, most people are decent everyday.
But when frustration and anger overwhelm that common courtesy, then you have thousands of people shouting in wild support of someone who encourages violence, divisiveness and hate.
Our country would be a third world country were it not for the ability for everyone in America to work together. Ideas and innovation; progress and success; these did not come from one class or race or religion.
It’s so hard to step back from the darker emotions, like anger and hate, but if Americans could, they would hopefully see that each person shares the same right and a desire as each and every person in the country: the pursuit of happiness.
Provide for themselves and their families. Own a home. Retire confident they have enough money to support themselves and that their kids are able to find security in jobs and homes of their own.
It’s never been about “us” versus “them”. Our tumultuous history starting from the founding of our country to the racial and religious tensions of today have always seen America and Americans work towards solving our issues with an eye towards peace and prosperity for all.
Don’t let your anger, fed by divisive rhetoric, lead you to forget the name of the country we live in: the United States of America.