Monday, January 4, 2010

(Ir)responsible Politics

Saturday afternoon, I drove to my parents’ house, two hours away, to watch the end of David Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor in the BBC series Doctor Who. While watching “The Waters of Mars” and the two-part “The End of Time” special, I listened to a fair bit of Obama bashing. (Hint: Expect a review of “The End of Time” this week.) Because of the conversation happening while I was trying to get lost in British television, I’ve had American politics on the brain for a few days.

I’m not writing today to deride my parents’ politics; people are entitled to their political views, regardless of whether or not we happen to agree with them. But there are responsible ways to address your political grievances.

Why this reflection? Saturday morning in Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains, Georgia, an effigy of President Barack Obama was found hanged along the community’s Main Street. I found this out through the BBC; many American news outlets are hiding this tidbit away and only using the Associated Press’s news release on the occurrence.

For a country that just shy of a year ago inaugurated its first African-American president, Saturday morning’s effigy is a cruel reminder of the way some people feel we should express our political opinions. Like something directly out of a William Faulkner novel, this event should remind us that whenever things change, people get scared, and they tend to look back to behaviors of the past. Instead of addressing the administration’s politics and agenda, somebody has pulled directly from the South’s sordid history of racial tension.

But Faulkner’s fiction--and here, I’m thinking of stories such as “A Rose for Emily” or his novel The Sound and the Fury--usually demonstrate that those old class hierarchies and that dependence on tradition are problematic, actually responsible for further social decay. The way in which Faulkner’s characters pine after the antebellum South--with both its slavery and its aristocratic glamour--reveals a culture that has stagnated and that collapses as the actual architecture of homes and plantations crumbles and rots.

But Faulkner’s characters--particularly Quentin Compson of The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!--find their thoughts mired in the past. They get stuck in this frame of mind and unable to move forward.

Listen: Barack Obama is a human being, and as such, he is not infallible. But there are responsible ways of demonstrating your political opinions. Write a letter to your legislature, get involved with a local organization of your political party, attend rallies, town hall meetings, pen a letter to the editor, get somebody’s attention with an argument--not a display of hatred and fear.

My opinion, for what it’s worth: If you don’t like President Obama’s policies, then attack his policies and back it up with ideas and evidence. Say what you don’t like, and why. Don’t attack the man just because you don’t like what he’s saying. That’s about as bad as high school students saying that they hate Shakespeare just because they don’t like Hamlet. The truth is, you don’t know Shakespeare and you don’t know Barack Obama. But you do know their work. Focus on that.

I believe that if America continues to use this fearmongering in its politics and if the population continues to deride people based solely on matters of ethnicity, faith, or sexuality, Faulkner’s image of the South as a collapsed aristocracy yearning for its glory days will become a template for America.

This country overwhelmingly elected an African-American president, and I would like to think that it can move beyond racial attacks. But there remain those who think its appropriate to hang an effigy of the president, which I think is several steps backward from November 2008. Racial politics haven’t left this country, and if there’s anything that we can learn (be it from the dilemma arising in Faulkner’s fiction or from the present circumstances of the Plains, Georgia, effigy), those of us who are lucid and level-headed enough to responsibly address our leaders--through phone calls, letters, grassroots organizations, or some contribution of money or time--have a Herculean task before us: showing others that there are non-violent means to working out our political problems.

1 comment:

  1. I think that you could easily turn this into a book- society and structure crumbling and collapsing because they won't propery address issues and policies when we actually have a leader who cares and is actually trying...