In a quiet suburb of Jackson, MS some church-goers gathered to chat about politics, their country, the announcement that all troops would be coming home from Iraq after 8 long, hard years.
“Civility”, said Tom Richardson, a Democrat (one of the few willing to admit it in the reddest of red states), “There’s no such thing as a reasonable conversation about anything anymore, and it infiltrates the churches, the neighborhoods, the schools, the playgrounds, the internet, and even our own extended families. People are voting based on slogans or bumpers stickers. What have we become? Everyone is angry….and vile. People are getting crazy.”
“And now there’s this Tea Party”, said Jim Sullivan, an accountant who describes himself as a middle-of-the road-but leaning center Democrat. “The willful ignorance is incredible. A serious contender for President brags about being a “C” student in college, audiences booing a gay soldier who may not be alive tomorrow because he’s fighting for their freedoms. They don’t believe in climate change, they want to cut expenditures in the middle of a deep recession. How do you fight this type of misguided thinking when everywhere you turn, it’s more and more of the same?”
The Tea Party changed everything, said Herman Johnson, who worked for a pharmaceutical distribution center. “They said all the things people wanted to hear in the last mid-term election. A lot of it was coffee-shop talk”-the crazy, ill-informed stuff people griped about at a local Applebee’s. As a result, he added, “Nothing is getting done”. I suddenly wanted to turn and say to the Tea Party folks looking scornfully at us from the next booth and whispering, “You! You are now Them”.
The numbers are staggering. A new Time poll reflects that there is an overwhelming desire for civility and moderation-81% say America is on the wrong track. 71% think the country is in decline. 60% feel that the media and politicians do not reflect their views. A staggering 89% believe that politicians should compromise on important issues rather than take a hard, inflexible stand. 73% answered that millionaires should be taxed at higher rates to help. Only 11% identify themselves as supporters of the Tea Party, and 75% say they are angry or upset that our country is now run by the few for the few.
I recently went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, only 150 miles from where I went to college myself(Mississippi State University). MSU is in a much poorer state, it’s a much smaller college and city, and a much less successful sports program. Tuscaloosa looked like pictures I had seen of Hiroshima, due to a horrific tornado that tore through the small Alabama town that is home to an American football dynasty. I came across a church group from somewhere in Tennessee cleaning up a modest, middle-class neighborhood. I got out of my truck and picked up a rake. I paired-up with a fairly large black dude who told me that his church had recently joined various service projects and he asked why I was there. I mumbled something about “frakkin rethugliklans might not even pass the money to fund FEMA to help out in disasters.” He mumbled back something about Washington being the devil’s new playground, where bad people gather to make good people go bad, turn selfish, forget about other Americans and think only of themselves.
I started to ask him what he thought about where he thought the country was headed, but it suddenly seemed oddly irrelevant. We were working to help out some folks in need and it felt kinda good. My work partner was inspired by the church; I was inspired by Pink Floyd. But we were both saving up for the things money can’t buy….a way out of the wilderness that has grown up around the country like a mighty field of kudzu; (a fast growing vine indigenous to the new south that grows so fast that you can almost see it advancing) choking all the living, breathing, meaningful good that has accumulated over the land since the last World War. These people represented the new silent majority. People willing to give of themselves with the expectance of nothing in return but the good feeling of doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason. It’s a pity our country’s leaders cannot see beyond the next election cycle, nor feel empathy for people who are suffering for no reason other than a storm that came along and picked their community to destroy. I wonder if these people out in this neighborhood today would understand the feeling in some Washington circles that they are in this trouble because it is their fault, or that it is their fault that they will have no home tonight, or for many, many more nights? Probably not, but my guess is that those people in Washington who feel that way are depending upon them keeping it to themselves until after November, 2012.