I am now and always have been in love with this country! Whatever its faults, it is my home, the finest place on earth. But it is not that for everybody. Why don’t others see it as I see it? I’m not talking about the angry politicians who are currently railing against Obama, and who despise everything that is going on in our nation. I’m talking about those who for a long time have felt excluded from participation in the American dream.
- Those who live in rat-infested slums.
- Those without adequate health care, whose teeth are rotted and who have to decide between medications and food.
- Those whose inadequate schools have left them behind.
- The millions we warehouse behind bars–more than any other country in the world!
- Single women who work three jobs just to get by—and don’t get by even at that.
- The underemployed who work without benefits or incomes large enough to sustain a decent life.
- The tired and the poor who know what the poem says on the Statue of Liberty, and who get to our shores one way or another, only to be treated like criminals.
- Those under the heel of a racism we don’t even acknowledge still exists.
- Those who are told over and over again that they don’t count.
- Those for whom an abortion is the only safe choice they have, but are prevented from obtaining one by those determined to control their choices.
- Those whose hopes are so small they are reduced to sticking needles in their arms.
So what is missing? Perhaps it can be summed up in the notion that here it is every “one for themselves and the devil take the hindmost.”
In most other developed nations there is the sense of community that cares for the very least, the less able, the marginalized. What has happened to the sense that we are not just a collection of individuals, but a people bound together by a common loyalty? Perhaps the good society is not marked by ways for the rich to get richer, but a by how the neediest are nurtured and included.
If you saw the mail I receive in response to my column, you would see the word socialism used pejoratively in reaction to the notion that we must care for one another. Maybe what we need to look for is an economic and social system that focuses on human decency. I do not hide the fact that I am a religious person and find in the life of the man called Jesus a social imperative that includes everyone. This is the “Kingdom of God.” In this vision of the new social order the left out are cared for and brought in.
What we yearn for is not just a matter of charity, but the way in which a just society orders its priorities. Beyond that, any student of history knows that a society where the rules are set so that the haves get more and the have-nots are left out will eventually collapse under its own weight.
Perhaps a good society is one where we know that what is good for all is good for me and what is good for me is good for all. In a good society we develop a universal healthcare system in which the right of everyone to decent medical care is more important than how the insurance industry CEOs, the drug producers and the medical dispensers manage to live royally off the nation’s financial resources.
I’m not suggesting that the government own or control everything. Such a system may conflict with our national ethos. Nevertheless, a decent society will find ways to see that everyone gets included in the collective dream.