The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” "The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on ShockNetRadio.com.
Under God or Under Goal?
A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer
What just played out in Wisconsin, and may soon be echoed across the United States, is a valuable lesson in what is wrong with American politics and what is right with America.
This is John Mill and if you’ve been watching the slow-motion evisceration of the middle class as played out just recently in the Wisconsin legislature, where a Republican governor and his ditto-heads in the state house used the power of the law to take away the right of workers to bargain as a group, you’re seeing not just a microcosm of the gradual disenfranchisement of the American people under corporate power masquerading as popular power, but a pretty good parable of religion being a divider rather than a uniter.
One Nation Under God, anyone?
I’ve always despised the motto, and not just because it excludes me. I always preferred E Pluribus Unum, the Latin dictum on the Seal of the United States that means “Out of many, one.” Which do you think should be the motto of a nation? While never made the law of the land, until overturned in 1956 by a law designating its divisive successor, the Latin motto gave us something to believe in – as a nation.
But are we a nation? Filmmaker Michael Moore brought up that point when he addressed the crowd at a rally in Wisconsin last Saturday: if we disrespect the commons, if we care more for corporate welfare that the welfare of the people, how are we to “provide an outstanding educational system that then grows a new generation of inventers, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and thinkers who come up with the next great idea”?
Maybe it’s time we had a little class warfare. It’s time we attacked welfare for the rich instead of welfare for the poor. Sure, you might be rich someday. And that’s why many of our politicians want you to vote for the party that protects the rich man or woman that you might be some day. But in the meantime, they’re taking away the very foundation, the shared foundation, poisoning the seed corn of the next generation.
What does “The United States of America” really mean?
We know what divides us. What unites us? If we’re all just independent contractors, with nothing to make us a whole people, then what’s the point in having a nation?
This is where the entire Tea Party argument falls flat: if we share no responsibility for the commons, and for the welfare of our fellow citizens, then there is truly no point in having a nation.
This is where religion divides us rather than uniting us: if we are really “One Nation Under God” instead of E Pluribus Unum, then we are a nation in name only, because we will be loyal first to 40,000 different versions of God, and only second to the “one” that comes of “many.”
So which is it, America?
"A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation."
Politicians are great at dividing us: they will define a problem, fill us with fear of it, then tell us who to blame for it. A statesman will define a problem, make us understand how it affects all of us, they inspire us to solve it together. You see the difference? The politician shifts all the responsibility for our problems onto someone else. That’s a lot like religion, shifting all of our troubles onto the Big Sin Eater in the Sky. It may feel good, the way it felt good as a child when Mommy kissed it and made it better. But at some point most of us have to grow weary of being treated like a child if we’re ever going to have the self respect which is the due of an adult.
The statesman is really concerned about the state of the state; he or she is a true leader, not a blame-shifter; an organizer of people toward a common goal, not a shepherd tending sheep; someone who creates an environment, or at least a mindset, in which the members being led feel they have something at stake that is shared by the other members, not someone who uses the members to further his own ends by setting us against each other.
Politicians do it, not by pointing us toward a common goal, but by making us fear another group for taking advantage of us individually. Religion does it, not by pointing us toward a common goal, but by pointing toward a selfish salvation in heaven. But if we truly are a nation, not under God but under Goal, we see no reason to fear and no benefit in selfishness.
The dismantling of the commons under color of “fiscal discipline” is based on a lie of our leaders: America is not broke because we ran out of money. We’re broke because we ran out of commitment to the commons, because we lost not our funds or our faith, but lost our common direction.
So which is it, America? If we choose divisiveness, demons and deities, there’s no point in having a nation. What I saw in Wisconsin was the people rallying against their misleaders: I saw, shared, American democracy!
"Apart from moral conduct," Kant wrote, "all that man thinks himself able to do in order to become acceptable to God is mere superstition and religious folly."