Nory Fussell: Finding unity in America
A recent op-ed on these pages bid “Farewell to unity in America.” As the writer delineated qualities describing the kind of world we want to achieve in common, I nodded in agreement with some of the shining-city-on-the-hill qualities. He then went on to define some nefarious and overarching socialist global government comprised of elitists and strong men, qualities he assigned to “the Left.”
Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, meet pot.
I’ve heard it said the problem with Americans is they just don’t like each other. When opinion solidifies to the point there is no ability to see and hear each other, good governance, left or right, becomes impossible.
Government can be seen as our collective agreements as to how we want to live together. When oppressed and lied to, we naturally rebel in our attempts to overthrow the oppressor and the liar. Good governance must be dedicated to the common good. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution implies a certain empathy with the words justice, tranquility, welfare, liberty.
It might serve us, in these tumultuously divided times of multiple crises, to consider two fundamental agreements that could lead toward a unified governance and citizenry.
Agreement No. 1: All citizens — you, me, they — have a fundamental right to an essential, dignified standard of living. Each citizen, assured of a basic minimum income, would be freed from hunger, homelessness and the paralysis of poverty. Education, health care and a period of civic service in young adulthood would foster a sense of unity and citizenship, encouraging each to rise to and contribute their merits and talents.
The rights and freedoms of the individual would be joined by that individual’s responsibilities to society. Fostering empathy and civility, instead of the conflict and defeatism rampant today, could lead to a unified citizenry and a dynamic labor force.
Old-schoolers will cluck and clamor, “Why, that’s socialism!” Consider that without social needs fulfilled, without a positive and unified social ethos, the individual can become dangerous, easily misled, even violent, as we witnessed on Jan. 6.
“How will you pay for this?” Today’s economy is based on 18th century principles — winner-takes-all capitalism needs an update. While fostering a cultural mindset of moderation and enough-for-all, the basic minimum income would be complemented by a maximum wage law. Taxation on extreme wealth would temper the elitism of a billionaire class, yet those who would naturally excel would be free to do so.
Agreement No. 2: Both political parties recently voted down a mere 10% cut to military spending, a sum that could fund many needed social programs and infrastructure. The last thing this overly militarized and weaponized country needs is a new $13 billion aircraft carrier, a new nuclear weapon, or a juvenile Space Force. In today’s world, diplomacy, aid and partnership are superior deterrents and far less expensive. Modern technology simultaneously offers the possibility of both global connection and global annihilation.
By standing up to the weapons industry and the war hawks, our political leaders might encourage other nations to do so, perhaps bringing the world to the brink of cooperation and collaboration.
These two proposed agreements may seem out of touch with a Reality that offers one “side” whose only aim is to defeat the other side. Engaged only in winning, with no ideas for social programs, that side has sunk so low as to criminalize the act of bringing a glass of water to a thirsty voter. Such is the self-defeating farewell to hopes of unity.
Yes, the “other side” is working feverishly with proposals to deal with racism, climate, a pandemic, the wealth gap, and the myriad other crises that face us. In truth, we have no time for sides, nor for the deaf ears that fail to hear the cries of people suffering.
Many are rising, passionately engaged toward unified and positive global change. They can no longer wait for stuck and stodgy ideological relics go the way of the dinosaur. Utah Phillips so wisely told us, “There are too many good people doing too many good things for me to afford the luxury of being pessimistic.”
Nory Fussell lives in Nevada City.
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