Sunday, September 12, 2010

9th Anniversary of September 11th marked by extremist rhetoric, marginalization, and bigotry

Demagoguery seems to have taken hold across the nation as we mark the 9th Anniversary of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks. What is different now compared to nine years ago?

For starters, our economy is limping along and there is stubbornly high unemployment. With 9.6% of the nation's workforce looking for work (and this number is misleadingly low considering those out of work well beyond the initial 26 weeks of unemployment), and five to six applicants for every job opening, this is the toughest job market since the Great Depression or at least since the Recession of the early 1980s.

Throw in the budget deficits and high national debt that we've been running since the 1980s (with the exception of a few years in the late 1990s when there were budget surpluses), the ingredients of anger, accusations, extremist rhetoric, marginalization, and racism begin form a witches brew conducive for an American version of right-wing nationalism.

Then there's the corporate culture, emboldened by deregulation, lax financial oversight, and the complete repeal of many of the laws put in place to prevent another Great Depression, that still refuses to admit their culpability for the Great Recession and changing their greedy, predatory business practices that set all of this in motion. The best examples of this, look no further than the BP Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Massey Energy's brazen disregard for Federal Mine Safety Standards and Regulations, and the latest, Pacific Gas and Electric's gas line explosion in California that took out an entire neighborhood.

While these are some of the broader, overriding themes that fertilize the ground for us to be susceptible to bigotry, significant economic distress that affects broad swaths of the population will compel those directly affected to assign blame and direct anger. And who are the ones to blame? Those that do not look like the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant with their work ethic, stiff upper lip, and can-do attitude. Those that do not espouse the supremacy and virtues of American Exceptionalism. Anyone that does not believe in the American Dream or advertise their Christianity and the "fact" that the United States was founded on Christian Values.

In the weeks leading up to September 11, 2010 we've seen an irrefutable rise in Islamaphobia and anti-immigrant (or more specifically anti-Hispanic) rhetoric. We've had protests to the proposed Islamic Community Center a few blocks away from Ground Zero and a likely act of arson to the construction site of a mosque in Tennessee. Just this week, an Evangelical Pastor with a congregation of 50 people from Florida threatened to burn a Koran unless the location of Islamic Community Center in New York City was moved. We continue to have Republican candidates, Congressmen, and Senators using illegal immigration as a wedge issue for one of the major reasons for the nation's unemployment problems, despite a major decline and stricter enforcement of laws on those who hire illegal workers.

Right-wing extremist candidate for Congress continue to win primary after primary, defeating establishment GOP candidates on the promises of passing a Balanced Budget Amendment, repealing part of the 14th Amendment to deny any benefits of citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants on American soil, and repeal and replace of historic Healthcare Reform. They also blame the collapse of the housing market on the poor, calling for the repeal of the Community Reinvestment Act, eliminating Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare as well.

Sensing the political opportunity to take back Congress and the decline in optimism that things will get better, Republicans are recycling an agenda of supply-side economics and deregulation with the promise of fiscal responsibility that brought them to power in 1994 and exacerbated the reasons for the Great Recession.

What all this tells me, and should be clear to everyone, is we are no different than any other nation reeling from policy choices and decisions that concentrate wealth and power in the hands of social and economic elites. While we long for the illusion of benefits from American Exceptionalism based on individualism and materialism, we have shoved the sense of national purpose and community responsibility in the garbage and replaced it with bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and selfishness. This is what happens when the voices of extremist outliers get a disproportionate amount of press. 

All of this adds up is an absence of leadership. In this vacuum of leadership people will listen to anyone and anything that assuages their anxieties and justifies their fears and prejudices. Happy 9/11 Anniversary.  The Terrorist have won this round. 

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