Last week was one which inspired vastly different reactions among different people, but all seem to agree on one thing: change is coming, disruptive change, for better or for worse. The question we need to ask now is not how can we prevent such change, but rather how can we all – all of us – change for the better?
A frequent refrain we all heard this week was, “If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile!” Compromise is self-defeating. People who disagree with me, the argument goes, whether with my politics or my religion or my sense of justice or my sense of heritage or my sense of needed liberation – people who disagree with me are evil, and compromise with evil is always wrong. But compromise with others, a respectful sense that others’ viewpoints appear as right to them as my own do to me, is truly one of foundational blocks of our nation. It is the only sound basis for a workable democracy. Looking overseas today provides a glimpse as what happens to nations whose populations include groups that will not compromise. Fortunately we are not such a nation. We have traveled down that road before, right here in South Carolina, and more than once. Experience is a hard teacher, but it teaches lessons well.
So, where shall we travel now? What are reasonable compromises we should seek out, and what are unreasonable ones that all of us – all of us, not just some of us – should agree to reject? Questions are easy; answers are difficult.
Our Confederate heritage
The problem, of course, is that not all of us have a Confederate heritage. Dylann Roof did, however perverse was his understanding of it; his victims did not, other than a heritage of oppression. When the Confederate Flag first came down in 1865, most people in Edgefield did not mourn, they rejoiced. In 1865, most people living in Edgefield County and in South Carolina had been slaves, and now they were free! We need to remember that having fought honorably and well, Confederate soldiers coming home in 1865 nevertheless represented only the minority among us. We have disregarded that fact for far too long, and need to ask how we can honor it more thoroughly, now, 150 years and about six generations later. We once were blind, but now we see.
The question as to whether the Affordable Care Act violates our Constitution has now been settled. The question as to whether the ACA is benefiting our society or ruining it, is still unanswered – or, rather, it is loudly and vehemently answered, but both ways. Advocates cite facts and figures purporting to show how much better off we are since the passage of Obamacare, and how much improvement is yet to come. Detractors cite facts and figures purporting to show precisely the opposite. So where do we go, now? I suggest we frame the question in a way that asks, how can we make our healthcare system better for the least of us? When the tide rises, all boats are lifted. We need to make sure that the least seaworthy boats are included, as our first priority.
The question as to whether the Constitution requires all states to recognize the validity of same gender marriages has now been answered, and answered definitively. We need to understand that the Bible (and, for that matter, the Torah and the Qur’an) has as many valid interpretations as there are religious denominations. Firmly held beliefs based on Holy Scripture are argued against other firmly held beliefs also based on Holy Scripture, with each side absolutely convinced that “I don’t say so, God says so” and then citing chapter and verse. But our nation is based not on the Bible but on the Constitution, with only one final arbiter: the Supreme Court. If we don’t like that interpretation we can change the court or we can change the Constitution – both highly unlikely, given today’s politics. Again the question is, so where do we go from here, in a way that we can all agree on? As a nation, we have made race a “special class” calling for specific penalties to businesses and government agencies that discriminate unjustly on the basis of race. Should we, or should we not, expand that idea to include gender preference?
What a week!