Hank Williams, Jr., in a reaction to effectively being fired as a spokes-singer for the NFL, has just released an anti-Obama musical rant insightfully titled, "Keep the Change." It includes the lyrics:
I'll keep my freedom
I'll keep my guns
Try to keep my money
And my religion, too
Try to keep on working
Try to keep on smilin'
Try to keep my Christian name
And y'all can keep the change
All he wants is to keep what he's got and for there to be no change. This may well become an anthem for social conservatives across America. In it, his use of "change" is an attempt to make reference to President Obama's 2008 campaign slogan, "Change we can believe in." However, I think his singling out that word and emphasizing it in the title of his song really cuts to the quick of what is troubling him and the great number of Americans sharing his mindset. Change. America is changing, and they don't like it.
In any time of change, there will be those who oppose it and will fight to keep it from happening. One could easily argue that the entire Civil War was an attempt on both sides to keep change from happening: the South wanted to stop change to their lucrative, slavery-based economy and culture, and the North wanted to stop the breakup of the country they worked so hard to build. There are few motivations that will more powerfully drive people to violence and the abandonment human decency than the fear of change to the lives they have come to know. There is no more corrupting influence on human nature than the desire to hang on to what you've got.
Ultimately, the intense polarization in this country, primarily coming from the political right, is a war to stop change from happening, by people who see the America they knew growing up changing into something they don't know and don't like and that doesn't preserve the privilege they have always known. This is a very human reaction, but it doesn't make it a good one. The most evil aspect of this human reaction is the demonization of innocent people who, in their minds, symbolize this change.
Here in my state of Arizona, a state that has been politically gripped by the wave of change-phobia, this fear projection is most vividly manifested in the passage of SB 1070. The problem isn't illegal immigration. The problem is what illegal immigration represents in the minds of white Arizonans who are upside-down in their mortgages, seeing their retirement savings dwindle, watching gas prices climb ever higher, looking for work or fearful of loosing their jobs, and perceiving China as an unstoppable force sucking up American manufacturing potential. There is great, general uncertainty about the future, which is certainly understandable. This creates a vague fear of the times we live in and of change itself, which inspires a nostalgic desire for the simpler times of youth and the paradise of the past. When you strip away all the smoke, hype and diversions surrounding it, the true polarizing issue dividing this nation is change itself. It is a war between those who want to change things for the better, and those who are desperately digging in their heals trying to keep change from happening at all.
Humans don't like vague fear. They like to point a finger at the threat causing their fear, so much so that they will either make up or readily accept any mildly plausible rationalization of their fear they can latch onto. For some odd reason, they most especially like that rationalization to have a loosely human face. This is the darkest, ugliest recess of human nature, but in stressful times it always raises its hideous head.
Those seeking power and influence discovered a long time ago, either accidentally or deliberately, that people can be led by providing them a rational explanation for their vague fear, creating an enemy among them to blame their problems on, and presenting themselves as the hero who can save the nation from this looming threat. This is the politics of hate, and it has been repeated over and over with great, albeit destructive, effectiveness throughout human history.
Politicians exploit fear by turning innocent people into wedge issues. They single out a scapegoat minority segment of the population, different from the majority in some easily identifiable way, and then either hype them up as the source of the problems in society, or fear-monger them as the slide down some hypothetical slippery slope. It works. It works extremely well. Let's take as a prime example same-sex marriage. It has been an extremely effective pitch that same-sex marriage will be damaging in some way to differing-sex marriage, but this claim is always presented without explanation. They simply say it's a threat, and people angrily march to the polls to vote for legislation to restrict the rights of their friends, neighbors and coworkers who never did them a lick of harm.
There is no real, legitimate reason to not extend marriage benefits to loving, committed, same-sex couples. It has been made to be a symbol of change used to command the loyalty of nervous masses who want to stop change from happening. It has been made into one of the great wedge issues of our time. America is changing because the world is changing. Keeping gays and lesbians from getting married won't stop that, but believing it will is the bill of goods the majority have been sold.
The problem with a political wedge is both parties benefit from it. The Republicans benefit more from anti-LGBT hate rhetoric because it motivates the fearful masses to vote for them. It also benefits the Democrats because they can very similarly use fear of Republican rhetoric to get LGBT people to donate to campaigns and cast votes by giving mere lip service in opposition. Once a good, working political wedge is established, neither side really wants to see it go away. Either way, the innocent people in the wedge being struck repeatedly by the sledge of politics lose.
LGBT people can't have their case for justice and equality be fairly heard as long as they are maintained as a political wedge. We can't trust the politicians who profess to support us to truly be fierce advocates for our cause. We can always trust conservative politicians to use us to get what they want most in this world: reelection. We can't get the strait majority to see beyond their fear and the hate it inspires long enough to recognize our humanity and equal rights as citizens.
So, to Hank Williams, Jr. and his legions of followers, I say change happens. Most especially to those who buy into the scapegoating of LGBT people, I say we didn't make your feared change happen any more than anyone else. It just happens. We did not cause the decline in American manufacturing and economic dominance. We did not cause the rise of China. We did not cause economies to collapse. We did not cause oil resources to deplete. We did not bring on the waning of Christian influence. We are not destroying your marriages.
You don't stop change by ignoring it and pretending you still live in the same America you grew up in. You don't stop it by singling out a scapegoat minority and pointlessly holding them down. It may feel immediately gratifying, but if you could just rise above the vague fear of the future you feel and see with clarity the needless harm you are doing in the lives of innocent people, the better angels of your nature would be mortified.
We are human. You are hurting us. Please stop.
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