This article expands upon a commentary published in the Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN, November 2012 and provides links to further information.
by Phyllis Stenerson
We need to talk.
How did a nation founded on belief in the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all become one mired in gross inequality, obscene poverty and a corrupt political process? Opportunity for a bright future is being stolen from millions of innocent children.
Our nation’s founders brought together the best thinking of the time balancing faith with reason, materialism with moral values and the reality of struggle with the energy of hope. For more than two hundred years the United States of America moved forward toward that dream and now we are going backward.
Democracy, one of the greatest ideas in history and the best form of government ever invented, has been corrupted by ideology, greed and lust for power of some leaders, aided and abetted by the apathy, ignorance and fear of too many voters.
The founders were abundantly clear about their intent that Americabe a nation of ideals built on Enlightenment principles of reason and the values of compassion and empathy at the core of all world religions, not one specific religion. They embedded freedom of, and freedom from religion in our Constitution and clarified this country was not established as a Christian nation. The United States of America is now the most religiously pluralistic country in the world.
So, what has happened to our moral compass and our common sense? It is fundamentally wrong that many millions of children live in poverty while a few thousand adults live with more wealth than anyone could ever need. There is a solid consensus among scientists that climate change is real with unimaginable consequences for the future. Why are we not addressing these, and many more, crises?
The problem is awesomely complex but solutions are within reach. Democracy provides a framework for working through problems and toward answers. The founders emphasized that for the democratic process to work an educated and involved citizenry with a commitment to honor was essential.
Out of all the components in this vast puzzle, one area that is seriously out of balance is the role of money and religion in politics. These are topics that people are uncomfortable discussing but that need attention now.
The way in which a new conservative movement was built during the 1960s and 1970s to pull power away from the dominant liberal consensus is a fascinating study. The long term strategy included investing millions of corporate dollars into think tanks and communication networks. Conservative leaders developed a sophisticated network of organizations that became known as the “right wing message machine” to influence the public. This strategy changed hearts and minds so citizens would come to hate liberals and see government as the problem, not the solution, reinforcing a radically conservative worldview. The Bible is cited as the infallible truth underlying many of the right wing’s extremist positions including opposition to gay marriage. Biblical scholars, notably the Jesus Seminars and Bishop John Shelby Spong, prove this cannot be true.
Social and cultural changes were hijacked to serve the right wing’s long term strategy. Turbulence of the time including the Viet Namwar, Civil Rights Movement and hippie’s Summer of Love, as well as women’s struggle for equal opportunity, created fertile ground in which to grow new ideas. The Supreme Court decision allowing abortion provided a “wedge issue” around which social conservatives organized society to see liberals as the enemy. “The Pill” was a major catalyst for conservatives to motivate their base. Race was always an undercurrent. Later gay rights became a wedge issue. Many Americans were disgusted by the emerging lifestyles. More recently the concept of “Biblical economics” is being used to justify right wing assertions that taxes and welfare are wrong.
Right wing religious leaders and operatives had been working for years to strengthen and grow the conservative Christian and Evangelical population. Radio and direct mail were tools in developing a cohesive power base. Many organizations including the Moral Majority were launched. By the early 1980s this grassroots movement was becoming known to religious and social scholars but most dismissed the possibility of it making a difference.
Liberals did not adequately articulate a progressive narrative to reinforce the liberal consensus. They split off into subgroups and organized around issues instead of a cohesive worldview. This created a vacuum in the public dialogue that was filled with conservative rhetoric.
A Supreme Court decision allowing legal access to abortion and introduction of the “Pill” strengthened the women’s movement but also provided the catalyst for the conservative movement to aggressively organize opposition to liberalism among social conservatives, particularly Evangelicals.
Fast forward to 2012 when conservative Christian extremists, a small segment of the population, had gained power sufficient to select the candidates to represent the Republican Party in the election of the President and Vice President of the United States. The party platform was strongly influenced by these religious leaders and proposes draconian cuts to the social safety net, education, health, nutrition and other programs that provide access to opportunity for all. The fringe end of the conservative spectrum includes reconstructionism, “End Times” and dominionism, the belief that the Bible should replace the Constitution.
The primary goal of the movement is to strengthen conservatism and reduce government to the bare minimum. Starving the government of tax revenue is one tactic. Obstruction by Republican Members of Congress is another.
The Republican agenda is to shift power from ordinary people to those already rich and powerful. Fundamentalist religion is used toward this goal. When money and religion are used to control government, it is called fascism. It ceases to be democracy.
Qualities that made America great — and good – are under attack. America’s soul is in grave danger. This is what we need to talk about.
This article is adapted from commentary published in the Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN, November 2012
work in progress – last updated 10/25/12
Phyllis Stenerson © 2012