Citizen Responsibility in a Democracy–April 29, 2011

April 29, 2011

It’s so dismaying to see who the “Average American” seems to be these days. I say “seems to be,” because it’s important to acknowledge that those who make noise are not necessarily the true average Americans–representing the vast majority of us. Nevertheless, even if the outspoken are not truly representative, they are numerous and their voice is very troublesome. As an American, I am frequently embarrassed by what those elements say publicly.

There are those of us who give Donald Trump a standing ovation in Las Vegas. There are those who watched the recent BBC presentation “The Chinese are Coming,” and filled the comments section on You Tube with vitriolic criticism laced with vulgarity of stunning proportions–criticism of the Chinese, the “whites” and the BBC. There are those who apparently actually think Sarah Palin would be a good candidate for US President! There are those who want to continue to debate whether our President was indeed born in Hawaii, as his birth certificate clearly states. There are those who want to associate Planned Parenthood with something subversive to our government and/or racist. There are those who would argue that foreign countries are responsible for our employment problems. And, sadly, those who would like foreigners to return to their countries of origin, especially those of Islamic faith. And on and on. What about our TV? The Kardashians? Charlie Sheen? The Apprentice? Reality shows?

Sometimes I wonder, “…what have we come to?” Is this the changing face of America? If it is, it’s embarrassing and shameful. And, it’s certainly no wonder that “The Chinese are Coming,” and no wonder that their country is forecast to eclipse the US in wealth and power in the 21st Century. If this is us, then we have done it to ourselves, and we certainly can’t blame anyone else! Just based on the vocal elements in part identified above, one might think that all Americans are red-necks, that we are too lazy to study the issues and come to reasoned opinions, that we can’t stand to hear others opinions (witness the behavior in recent town meetings when citizens disagree), that we only see the easiest answer–someone handy to blame, that we don’t take responsibility for our own actions and outcomes, and that we can’t even bear to tolerate, much less respect and accept, those who have different religious beliefs than ours.

I haven’t lost faith in the US. There are still many who, even today, on national TV make it clear that they feel (as I do) that Donald Trump is a travesty in terms of Presidential candidacy, and who agree with me that we can hardly imagine a greater fool in economics and in international relations.

And, thanks be, there are many leaders who understand that the benefits of foreign trade far outweigh the loss of jobs in industries or companies which cannot compete. In the BBC series, some workers from Youngstown feel the Chinese stole their steel industry and their jobs. Indeed, we lost lots of jobs, but we still build buildings and bridges with steel (some from China) and as a result of our ability to get it much cheaper, we build more and make more progress–and there is more employment in other places in the US on the other end of this process. Here in San Francisco, we are building a new bridge with cost well over $10 billion, and most of the materials are manufactured and shipped from China. Does one imagine that local authorities did not even try to find US manufacturers who could compete with the Chinese bid? The differential was just too great to pass up the massive savings–and those savings go to benefit other programs in our state and city. In the case of cheaper foreign products, who should we be thinking to benefit–the US company making the more expensive products (and their employees) or those who are buying the competing product from abroad? That’s a decision, I suppose.

I will in most cases argue to let the (international) market play out. Of course, if there is foreign government interference in the free market, we should take steps, but many of our protectionist proposals and regulations and taxes are at the behest of a company or an industry, and our protecting through such actions might also be examined as US government interference in the free market. As individuals, if we want to express our choices more clearly, we can avoid Walmart, where much of the merchandise comes form outside the US, and we can patronize local merchants–and pay the higher price that comes with that. That’s a good way to express individual patriotism–and let others decide which they prefer to do! There is a good reason Walmart’s parking lots are full! Don’t we understand you can’t have both–no foreign competition and lowest possible prices?

And, the fear and hatred of those of Islamic faith–again, just a way to blame someone for our failure to stop and listen and understand that these people (most of them) agree with all the key principles we hold so dear, and do not intend any harm to others. We forget that we have our own Christian extremists here in the US, and we have our own bombers and terrorists–born of several generations of US parents. And, we don’t assume that all Americans are dangerous as a result of this reality. Why should we make the opposite assumption regarding Muslims?

We are a nation founded on principles of justice, fairness, openness, equality. Let’s try to remember that and behave accordingly. And, let’s try to remember to value in our officials those of good judgment. Let’s listen to others and make our own decisions of who and what to support, but give space and respect to those who come to other conclusions.

And, I will try to remember that we also value freedom of speech. I just dearly hope some of the “speech” of recent times does not represent our true values.

I welcome your comments

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