Thursday, March 12, 2015

The New American Dark Ages


We typically think of the Dark Ages as a time of war and ignorance and religious turmoil.

First, I have to qualify the term "Dark Ages" as one that is no longer used by historians. It is considered politically incorrect and too negative (that era is now referred to as the Early Middle Ages). There were still art and inventions and creativity going on at the time, of course. (The Goths, for instance, were highly artistic). Nevertheless, after Rome fell in 476, a world that had been somewhat settled under Roman rule began to fall apart, to be conquered by whoever got there first and didn't mind engaging in brutality to prevail.

Various sects invaded Europe and Muslims began to take over swaths of the Middle East, including what Christians considered the Holy Land. To make matters even worse, every now and then, a plague would come along and wipe out significant percentages of the population.

Life began to be more peaceful in about 1000 AD when Europe developed into a series of relatively stable feudal kingdoms. The Renaissance is generally considered the end of the Middle Ages and the bridge to modern history. Of course, before the Renaissance, were the Crusades (1095-1291) and well into it, in 1478, was the Inquisition. In addition, the 1340's brought the worst plague of all, the Black Death, during which 25,000,000 people died. So, just because we said good-bye to the so-called Dark Ages, it didn't mean everything was hunky-dory.

It seems to me that we have once again entered into a kind of modern Dark Ages.

America had a relatively golden youth although no time is perfect. We created one of the greatest democratic systems ever known to mankind but it still allowed for slavery and Native American genocide. We fought a bloody civil war that pitted family against family. We built transcontinental railroads and the world's most productive factories and a public school system second to none, even as we turned a tolerant eye toward child labor and discrimination of women and African-Americans.

Still, over all, knowledge and freedom and invention flourished in the Unites States and our path seemed ever upward in both innovation and civil rights.

Now, we have entered a kind of twilight time in which many of our citizens appear to want to take us backward.

The ideals for which America has always been known are being undermined - civil rights, self-determination, justice for all, due process, education of children regardless of status, thirst for knowledge, creativity.

One of our two great parties is paddling backwards as fast and as far as they can. As other countries are building high speed mass transit and innovative green buildings and turning to renewable sources for more of their energy needs, America falls behind as the Republicans allow our infrastructure to crumble and fight to the death to protect the fossil fuel industry.

As other countries strengthen their school systems and make university free, Republicans are busy trying to dismantle our own system of public education and if our kids can even afford to go to college, they graduate with a mountainous pile of debt.

As other countries provide their citizens with healthcare, Republicans in America take 50 meaningless votes against the ACA because, well, I guess because having no healthcare means freedom...yeah!

Speaking of going backward, the last time, not so long ago, that the Civil Rights act was re-affirmed under George W Bush, it was practically unanimous. But when the Supreme Court gutted it more recently, today's Republicans decided things were fine the way they were, even though several red states passed legislation that had already been judged discriminatory, within 24 hours of the ruling. America is considered one of the most "advanced' nations but our elections are rigged by gerrymandering and voter suppression and everyone knows it. I guess we just don't care enough to fix it.

The Republican side of the congressional aisle has become almost completely anti-science, denying what 95 percent of all scientists believe - that climate change is real and greatly contributed to by humans. Furthermore, they've packed the science committees with people who are totally ignorant about science, people who believe the earth is 5,000 years old and that man and dinosaurs co-existed and that there is such a thing as legitimate rape and that cancer is a fungus and who ask if a woman can swallow a mini-camera to monitor a pregnancy.

In our craven fear after 911, the U.S. immediately threw its long-held principles overboard. Though we were instrumental in writing the Geneva Conventions banning torture, we suddenly decided they no longer applied. Due process, right to know the charges against you, being able to face your accusers? Bah, we can no longer afford such airy-fairy moral luxuries. And if we weren't altogether sure if some of the Guantanamo detainees were actually guilty, well, hey, you gotta' break some eggs to make an omelet.

Many of us are not shocked when our police shoot unarmed black kids because chances are, they were thugs and deserved it. Stand-your-ground laws are in and so are stop and frisk and warrantless searches. Better to err on the side of safety than freedom and fairness, right?

We have elevated guns to the level of icons to be worshiped. No number of dead children are too many to accept as we bow before the altar of the NRA. Collateral damage is just part of it. If it's your kid, well, too bad, so sad.

I'm an agnostic myself but it seems to me that much of conservative Christianity has turned into something I believe would horrify Jesus. These Christians seem so hate-filled. They hate immigrants and gays and poor people and Muslims and blacks. They love fetuses but hate children who need things, like food and housing and healthcare. Does anyone truly believe Jesus would be into Prosperity Theology if he came back today?

What is happening in the U.S. isn't quite so noticeable if you only catch the national news but if you follow what is happening in the states, it is shocking. The North Carolina Senate just passed legislation that would allow magistrates to recuse themselves from marrying any couple of which their religious beliefs did not approve - gay marriage, interracial marriage, interfaith marriage - and since they also decide on matters of domestic violence, divorce and child support, would these same scruples also mandate how they might rule in those cases?

North Carolina attempted to declare Christianity the state religion although the bill was withdrawn.

Literally, hundreds of laws affecting women and their right to control their own reproductive choices have been passed in red states - all making it more difficult for women to determine their own lives and futures. These are laws, mostly proposed and passed by men, that treat women as too stupid to make decisions for themselves, and for whom having a transvaginal ultrasound forcibly thrust into her body is no big deal.

Sex education has been outlawed in some states. Books have been banned. Oklahoma recently dropped the teaching of college placement classes because they taught America's history, warts and all, and weren't considered "positive" enough. Teachers are treated with contempt.

Workers' rights that our forefathers fought and died for are being undermined by the passage of Right to Work laws that give employers ever more power over over their employees. In several red states, collective bargaining rights of public workers are being over-ridden.

States have passed "right to discriminate" laws even as they forbid their employees to enforce other laws ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. They've done their best to deny their gay citizens the right to marry....or even the right to work if their employers disapprove of homosexuality. They've done their best to deny their citizens the opportunity to have healthcare. They've done their best to give employers the right to decide whether or not their female employees have access to birth control.

In fact, it appears that red state politicians are systematically trying to dismantle democracy itself. In Michigan, the governor appoints managers, who only account to him, to take over cities and counties and school systems...and who has the power to sell off assets owned by the public, such as park lands. They are systematically privatizing every possible agency in favor of profit-making entities - schools and prisons and toll roads and utilities. They play by no recognizable rules. In Indiana, the governor and Republican legislature stripped the duly elected head of public education of her power. In Michigan, they called a voice vote on the recall of the manager law and though it was obvious they didn't get a majority since every democrat voted against it, they declared it passed anyway. In Ohio, they put abortion legislation in their budget, something that had never been done before.

I believe conservatives no longer trust our democratic republic, seeming to think that they are mandated to control America and if the people don't agree, then the people shouldn't be allowed to make the decision and they are within their rights to step in to try to undo the election. When Bill Clinton won, they impeached him.

It has been even worse since Barack Obama was elected. In my opinion, it is worse in large part because Obama is black although they become indignant if you say so. He hasn't done anything to be impeached though God knows, they've tried hard enough to drum things up, so they have to settle for smears and investigations - unAmerican, unChristian, hates the country and the Constitution. They have make such extreme claims to justify their own unAmerican behavior. This, despite the fact that the Obama administration is the first that I remember that has had no cabinet member charged, tried or convicted of a crime.

And oh, how they long for a truly authoritarian leader, a powerful leader, a leader like Vladimir Putin or Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi makes the blonde babes on Fox cream their panties. Well, in fact, I think some of our Republican congresspeople had wet spots on their britches after Bibi's speech too. They're ready to follow him anywhere....into war with Iran, for instance. We have plenty of resources to go to war with Iran because, of course, Obama is doing nothing in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan and Africa. If you heard that we were spending millions of dollars a day and leading the bombing raids in Iraq and Syria, and we recently killed ISIS' lead recruiter in Afghanistan and Boko Haram's leader, why you must just be wrong. Listen to Fox, they'll set you straight on how feckless America is under this president.

Ask them to put their money where their mouths are and call for a return to the draft. Ask them if they believe enough to put all our children in harm's way to fight for us and not just the same soldiers over and over and you'll hear....crickets.

And the latest trick when 47 Republican Senators wrote directly to the Iranian government to undermine the talks between Iran and the United Nations Security Council plus Germany made us look like a laughingstock, like we are voting for, and being led by, a bunch of buffoons.

We're not all like that, of course, but a significant minority of the population seems to be getting dumber and meaner. They believe crazy conspiracy theories about the president. They think if you don't teach about sex education, teenagers won't have sex. They think if you don't actually say the words "climate change", it won't be true (Florida actually forbid its public officials to use that phrase.) They think the murders of children at Sandy Hook were an elaborate hoax.

I feel as if I'm living in the midst of a new Dark Ages.

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