Has America gone mad? Are we, as one TV commentator put it, "freakin' crazy?" What in the world is going on in our collective national psyche?
How much can we obsess, for example, over the building of a community center which happens to have an Islamic prayer room or two in it because of its proximity to Ground Zero? Once and for all, can we put to rest the idea that all Muslims are bad people, and that it was they and not Al Quaeda that attacked us on 9-11? Here are the facts: The building in question is a community center, not a mosque. It will include a cooking school, a basketball court, and other kinds of learning settings, just as any community center might. It is being fostered by an imam and his wife long known for their participation in, and dedication to, interfaith cooperation in lower Manhattan. Their work is endorsed by the rabbis, priests, and other clergy people in the neighborhood with whom they have long worked. And by the way, wouldn't we be screaming "anti-semitism" if the whole country wanted to stop the building of a synagogue at 51 Park?
Further, Park 51 as it's now known is a good four to five blocks from the site of the actual Ground Zero memorial. It has near it St. Paul's and St. Peter's churches and a synagogue so the idea of places of worship are not unknown in the area. It will help revitalize an area long failing. Then there is the matter of First Amendment rights and the promise of our revered Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom and separation of church and state. What in the world have we been fighting for all these years in Iraq and Afghanistan why have we lost more than 4400 of our youth so far if not to model these rights for others and to offer them a view of a sane democracy?
Moving right along in the Annals of Insanity, what is the big issue with gay marriage? And why are we bleeding national heroes and experts from our overstretched military just because of their sexual orientation? When are we going to get over that kind of mindless discrimination just like we got over having blacks (or women) in the military and moved beyond banning inter-racial marriage?
Then there's all the anti-immigration hysteria. Having just read a biography of Dorothea Lange, noted photographer of Dust Bowl and Depression days, the parallels between then and now in the west are striking. Racism and anti-immigration sentiment ran high in Arizona when Lange was documenting the labor crisis of the 1930s. "No Mexicans or Okies!" signs read then. People fought against schooling for immigrant children, against health care rights, labor rights, child protective services, workman's comp, and old age pensions for migrant workers. "What goes on here is beyond belief," a Lange's source said. "If they don't like you, they shoot you, beat you up, throw you in a ditch. If you're black they lynch you." Fear drove everyone and everything then, and now it is driving people again; think about the unfounded rumors of beheadings and kidnappings.
It is, of course, the likes of real crazies like Glenn Beck, Sharon Angle, et al. who perpetrate these scare tactics, facts be damned. But then what can you expect from someone, Mr. Beck in this case, who says nutty things like this: "If you have a priest that is pushing social justice go find another parish and alert your bishop!" Or this: "Not a single time have we gotten a right from Congress of from the President. We get them from God." Of Ms. Angle I will only say this: She makes Sarah Palin look like she might have a brain. Angle is against social security, wants to abolish the Department of Education as well as federal taxes, and will not answer any questions from the press unless they ask her what she wants to be asked. "I am the Tea Party," she has claimed. Fine by me, as long as she gets no further than a slow steep.
And what of the corruption epitomized by the recently revealed scandal in Bell, California, one of L.A. county's poorest towns? While the average salary there is $30,000 the police chief has been pulling in $457,000 a year, more than the police chief in L.A. proper makes. The city manager is paid nearly $800,000 annually with a yearly raise of 12 percent. Then there's the cheating scandal in Atlanta schools where teachers and administrators have been caught falsifying test results. What about the attempt to privatize the Arizona prison system just when there is a crackdown on illegal immigrants to keep those prisons full and funded?
I could go on but I'd probably lose my mind in the process. So maybe we can just pause a moment, take a deep breath, and reflect upon the madness of our times. Because it's not only about "the economy, Stupid" as we move ahead in a political season. It's also about not having enough intellectual resources to think clearly. It's about being morally bankrupt. It's about not cherishing our founding values, not having compassion for others who suffer and strive, not being truthful privately or publicly. It's about all that could go wrong if we don't get a grip.