Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ugliness in the Season of Beauty

I usually look forward to the December holidays because, for at least one month, people in the United States tend to he hopeful, helpful, optimistic and happy. They look backward at the year that was and take stock, and they look forward with anticipation at what the new year will bring.

This year, things are most certainly different. The terrorist attacks here at home and in France, Afghanistan, Iraq and other locales have sapped some of the love and light from the season. We are a scared nation with no clear path forward for our national leaders to take us. Want to bomb Syria far more brutally? An option. Want to send ground troops to Syria and Iraq? Another option. Want to create a coalition of American, European and Middle Eastern countries to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups? A third option. But none of them seems like THE option and they all involve terrible risks both overseas and at home.

President Obama has been steadfast in his insistence that we will not send masses of American troops to Syria or Iraq and I think that's exactly the correct strategy for now. He has rightly been criticized for downplaying the ISIS threat and for not standing behind his threat to attack Syria if Assad used Chemical weapons in the war, but most Americans do not want to see our men and women coming home in body bags. The old joke is that we shouldn't elect anyone who actually wants to be president because it's a terrible, impossible job. These are the times.

The focus on attacks from radical terrorists has overshadowed the home-grown terror that has also shaken the nation.  The killings at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was quickly forgotten in the wake of San Bernardino, but both were shocking events by people who were motivated by hatred, a misplaced fanaticism, and unbending ideology. In both shootings, the perpetrators should never have been allowed to get their guns, but because we are rapidly making the Second Amendment more important than the First, more people will get guns and use them on innocent people.

The other event that is dampening the holiday spirit is the presidential election. The Republican candidates are falling over themselves to blame Muslims and immigrants for our problems and have created an atmosphere where attacks on American Muslims are rising, and overreactions to a school assignment in Virginia that led to the entire school system being shut down because a teacher asked her students to copy a passage from the Koran using calligraphy. Dangerous, inflammatory rhetoric has its consequences and we are now living them large.

The left also has its problems when it comes to these issues. Calls for safe spaces and trigger warnings on college campuses only serve to segregate students and ideas, making common cause that much more difficult. If a person doesn't feel safe in the general population, that's a problem that needs to be addressed head-on. The answer is not to provide areas where people can retreat or have their ideological bubble reinflated.

The unfortunate aspect of this particular racist, phobic spasm we're living in now is that it's a very American trait. In fact, it's more a part of our history than acceptance of different people and ideas. We eventually do make room in our society for those we first shun and isolate, but it takes too long and we backslide far too often. One need only look at how African-Americans are being treated by police forces to understand just how much more work we need to do on justice, even as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

We will eventually move forward as a country and I'm looking forward to a shift in tone from politicians and a shift in attitude from many of my fellow Americans. In the meantime, I wish you peace and joy, humility and introspection, thoughtfulness and forthrightness, love and honor. And let's turn the ugliness around. Now.

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