Something rather predictable happened in America yesterday. North Carolina became the 28th State which overwhelmingly voted to amend their constitution to protect the "sanctity" of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
As a recent citizen of this much-vaunted nation, this and related events make me question two things I was required to learn to gain citizenship:
(1) Did the Boston Tea Party really occur? Was this country really formed in response to "a long train of abuses and usurpations" against the ideal that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."? Or is that all a sham?
(2) Are the fifty (50) United States of America really so, or is this just a geographically convenient artifact?
Today, 56% of American States are anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, and anti-any-other-religion-but-ours. They ironically campaign for this using the very Declaration quoted in #1 above. They are strong in their conviction, persuasive with their campaigning, and (very) successful in their actions.
If an alien were tapping into American news over the last months, they would be convinced that this continent is on the brink of civil war pitting the Middle/South (MS) against the North East/West (NEW). They would be further convinced that the passion, state of weaponization, and ferocity of MS would prevail against the tepid passion and insipid NEW.
I think they'd be mostly right. MS wins referenda because they stir passion in an organized way, they instill fear by correlating any issue to the personal insecurities of their constituents. NEW on the other hand appeals to people's sense of what's right; they may agree, but are not provoked enough to rock the vote. Once again proving that when it comes to politics, the threat (actual, perceived, or fabricated) of imminent, personal danger far outweighs any intellectual discourse.
Notwithstanding their brains, NEW's density and lack of savvy are impressive -- if I were running the NEW campaign advocating that any two consenting adults should be allowed to marry, I would also argue that any two consenting married adults should be allowed to divorce. I would be sure to give the latter as much "air" as the former, secure in the knowledge that that would cause/require MS to oppose it. While incredibly obvious, I'm certain NEW will never do it.
Gay rights is but one rift in metaphoric Grand Canyon that separates Americans; it began with the Civil Rights movement and the US military presence in Vietnam (or perhaps with the abolition of slavery?), and fed by vitriol, violence, and politics, blossomed into our current state of "irreconcilable differences." The pundits claim that the upcoming presidential election is about the economy/debt, jobs, national security (energy self-sufficiency), and health care. They're wrong. These are surface issues, filled with gray; and both sides (politicians and voters) are mostly in agreement. The real issues, the most evocative, are personal and decidedly black/white.
Democrats and Republicans alike claim "what unites us is far greater than what divides us" and in the next breath, go on to paint "them" as against the core, fundamental, and personal issues that "we" share.
You can't have it both ways. Aaron Sorkin said this best with President Andrew Shepherd's speech in The American President:
America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship.You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.
Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.
America (and democracy) can't exist when her citizenry is made to be personally severed from its neighbors. If we continue down this path of intolerance, metaphoric severance will become literal; either peacefully - "You (44%) go your way, and we (56%)'ll go ours.", or violently - "You're too evil to live, you need to be ended."
Maybe it's time to renew my Canadian passport...