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One of the many political email lists I seem to find myself on these days is written by Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton and current Professor of Public Policy at the University of California. I don’t always agree with Dr. Reich, but occasionally he seems to have it just right. A recent Facebook posting of his is in that latter category, and I’ll paraphrase it.
The real dividing line in America today, according to Professor Reich, isn’t between conservatives and liberals or between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between the haters and the big-hearted. The haters direct themselves at child refugees seeking asylum from the Central American drug wars. Meanwhile, many of them – and of us – worship a child whose parents grabbed him up and fled from violence in the country of their birth, but we seem to forget that. The haters find reasons to single out monogamous gays who want to marry, African-Americans who want to vote and exercise their other rights of citizenship, women who seek the right to make their own decisions, or even women in general. They strongly distrust the motives of Latinos (citizens or not) who want their children to be taught in Spanish, immigrants in general, Muslims, Jews, and people who are perceived to be different in any way whatsoever from “real Americans.”
They don’t like government bureaucrats, look down at the poor and needy (without thinking too deeply about the moral imperatives taught in Sunday School), and question the patriotism of anyone who dares suggest a required background check before buying guns, all of the recent shooting tragedies notwithstanding. They consider the majority of the citizenry of states outside of South Carolina to be un-American: people they call “liberals” or “socialists” or “communists,” even the President of the United States, and likely the last two or three of his predecessors from both parties.
But the haters are not America. They are a small and vocal minority. They have lost track of who we as Americans really are, and what are our most profound ideals: a belief in opportunity, of justice, and of compassion as well as a sense of fairness. They have forgotten that in a democracy, the majority does not need protection from the tyranny of a minority nearly as often as the minority needs protection from the tyranny of the majority – and that, in a nutshell, is why we even have a Bill of Rights, not to mention most of the subsequent Constitutional Amendments.
Most Americans are generous and welcoming, decent and kind-hearted. To borrow a well-worn phrase from the Reagan era, most of us are, indeed, the silent majority. We believe in the ideals of a caring America, the value of new ideas, of the profound need to follow those inner spiritual voices who ask us to comfort the afflicted even if it occasionally means we need to afflict the comfortable. We welcome those who are different from ourselves as the advocates of that change and growth without which we as a society would stagnate. Perhaps the real problem is that the silent majority has once again been silent too long. Perhaps it is time to reach out to the different, to the “other,” to the needy, and to those who have few friends, and to become their champions. It’s the American thing to do.