I grew up in Jamaica and spent the first half of my adult life in Canada, and that’s probably why I am so confused by the stubborn conservatism in America. Most Americans just don’t see life the way most Jamaicans or Canadians do. I have no idea why, but the accepted standards of morality are very different here from anywhere else I’ve ever lived.
You would expect your Jamaican or Canadian friends to agree, for example, that the government is derelict in its duty when millions of a country’s children are homeless and half of its population live in or near poverty. But I have found that many Americans don’t see it that way. (You may remember that a Republican politician said a while back that “if you feed the poor they will breed.”)
I think these people want life to be a kind of casino, where you put up your chips and take your chances. The winners walk away with the pot, and the losers sleep on the street.
To me, that’s the opposite of what I learned in Sunday school, and yet America is the most religious country in the western world. And the more conservative the region, the more religious the people. I have never encountered such judgmental people as those here in “the South,” so ready to disapprove of the behavior of others, so unrelenting in exacting penalties for any perceived sexual misconduct.
The kindest construction I can put on this phenomenon is that they believe compassion is a private matter, that individuals, churches and charitable groups are morally bound to help the unfortunate but the government should not intervene.
If that is so, I can only assume they have never read the history books or any of Charles Dickens’ novels. A line from “Christmas at Sea” by Robert Louis Stevenson echoes in my memory:
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.
As cold as charity.
Yet so many Americans are prepared to choose cold “charity” over government assistance. And they stubbornly resist any political movement that disagrees with them.
This is not true of all Americans, of course. There is a minority that accepts the logic of government intervention to level the financial and social playing field, to arbitrate between the interests of its citizens, to protect the weak from predators and to keep the peace.
But it is a minority.
These Americas are referred to as “progressives.”
I read that many progressives are not pleased with President Obama’s performance, that they might be turning to some “third party” candidate in next year’s election.
But I would caution them against doing that. By splitting the “progressive” vote, they could help to elect a “conservative” candidate and usher in an era of unthinkable misery in America.
I would ask them to put themselves in Barack Obama’s place and imagine the obstacles he has had to deal with in this heavily conservative (and still racist) country. No, he has not been perfect. But he has done a lot. He may have done as much as anyone could do in the prevailing political environment.
A wise man once told me that petulance is a minor emotion. We must not allow pique to make us do something we would live to regret.
Let’s give President Obama a second chance.