Yesterday, I spent the day in Canada, and driving over the border, something hit me. Not literally, but figuratively. The Canadian side of the border was bustling and vibrant, full of shops, pedestrians, successful businesses. We crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and entered the U.S. It was like we were entering a third world country. Desolate, bombed out buildings stood with weeds growing out of the windows next to shuttered factories. Poor people sold food and junk on the street corners from folding tables in front of the abandoned shopping mall. The only sign of life was the Native American-owned casino, and the vagrants propped up on street corners. It is, as Arianna Huffington has termed it, third-world America, and it’s literally at our national doorstep.
All this got me thinking… why? What has happened to our country? Why—solely on the basis of looks—does our northern neighbor seem to be so prosperous, and why do we seem to look so poor? I think the reason is what writer Bill Bishop has termed “the big sort.”
The big sort holds that conservative or liberal, we tend to gravitate toward people that think like we do.
Unfortunately, that’s creating two philosophically parallel countries that happen to physically overlap.
In one country, it’s OK to hate your neighbor because they are black, or jewish, or gay, or catholic, or educated. This is the America of Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. It’s the America that believes purple wooden stakes at the end of your driveway will prevent U.S. marshals from treading on your property. It’s the America that looks to yesteryear for inspiration and longs for the way things were. It’s the America that is afraid and suspicious and believes in the boogie man. It is the America that looks out for number one.
In the other country, tolerance is the aspirant. This is the America of far less inhabitants. Maybe Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore, and Phil Donahue. It’s the America that believes we can rule by example, and that we can make life better for others. It’s the America that is hopeful and believes in the future. It is the America that believes it is our moral responsibility to look out for those who cannot look after themselves.
Which America is the correct America?
The first country, believes they are right and everyone else is wrong.
The second believes they may be right and that everyone else is buried in the sand.
I’m going to digress for a moment: I’ve had this blog for about 5 years, and consistently, the story that gets the most traffic is over 4 years old, and ironically is about a bad experience I had purchasing a giant piece of furniture at Target. [You can read the whole post here.]
Unfortunately, despite my anger, I went back to shopping at Target. Until about 2 weeks ago.
Around my birthday this year, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel was outed for making a large donation to an organization called Forward MN. It’s a political action group that supports extreme right wing candidates for election in Minnesota.
That upset me.
What upset me more is the official Target response to the donation. Essentially, they said “we’re sorry, BUT we can do what we want” read: “we don’t care.”
Why is that upsetting. Because Forward MN has been associated with political leaders and groups that advocate violence toward gays and lesbians. So while Target has argued that they gave to Forward MN to support their “pro-business” stance, I wonder, would Target have made the donation if Forward MN publicly advocated violence toward blacks, or asians, or women, or muslims, or born-again christians, or people with brown eyes… see where I’m going with this? It’s inexcusable—in this day and age—for any group to advocate for violence against any other group. It’s unconscionable for any corporation to openly support it.
It’s unconscionable especially when companies like Target have relied on gay and lesbian designers to make their company what it is and to catapult its cool quotient… which, shamelessly, Target has. I call upon the many gay and lesbian and GLBT-friendly designers (Todd Oldham, Isaac Mizrahi, Mossimo) to cease their support for a company that is doing such damage to the community and to our society.
Why is this acceptable? Why does the first country, in sneaky, cowardly ways support murder and violence? Is it not hypocritical that the same people that lead this country do not live by its rules? The recent revelation of former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman—who was the brainchild behind anti-gay, anti-gay marriage, and defense of marriage legislation—has admitted that he himself is gay. Why is it OK for Sarah Palin to speak about abstinence when her own daughter has a child out of wedlock?
The place that bickering about who puts what where in the bedroom has gotten the US to a place that is quite ugly. It is a place sprouted in fear and intolerance, and it is a place that is eminently un-American. It is led by religious extremism that has bastardized the meaning of christianity, and it is gobbled up by an increasingly edutained, undereducated, desperate, bored, and financially less prosperous American society. The solution to this problem is not government. In the words of Ronald Reagan. Government is the problem. It is the enabler that allows this divisiveness to prosper, because without it, we would have no political system, and with no political system, our economy would fall to the wolves.
I write this today with the hope that this will become the most read, most “hit” story on my blog. Not because I want to bitch about the state of our country, but because I hope that it gives pause to those who read it, and maybe that will help to make a difference.