09/25/2011 04:21 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2011

"I Tremble for My Country"

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever." (Thomas Jefferson).

Watching and listening to the candidates and audiences of the two Republican Party presidential candidates debates reminded me of some of the earlier Tea Party rallies also shown on television. I remembered signs carried by some Tea Party members or supporters with poster board pictures of President Obama with a Hitler moustache or a caricature of his mouth with that of "The Joker" from Batman films. Several persons attending these same rallies also carried and prominently displayed their rifles or pistols strapped to their bodies.

Then, of course, there were the famous Sarah Palin congressional district maps depicting crosshairs of a rifle's sight in a map of the United States imposed on designated congressional districts of House members opposed by the Tea Party. Subsequently, the nation was traumatized by the attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, along with the killing six and wounding of 12 other persons.

At one of the Republican presidential debates, Governor Rick Perry of Texas was asked to comment on the large number of persons executed in his state. Before the Governor could respond, there was loud applause from a number of people in the live TV audience. On the issue of healthcare, presidential candidate and Texas congressman Ron Paul was asked his reaction to a hypothetical case of an uninsured person who seriously was ill, whether or not such person should be provided with some medical attention even if they could not pay for it and had no other insurance. Again, a significant segment of the live audience shouted, in effect, "let him die!"

These incidents are occurring against an economic backdrop of continued high unemployment, housing foreclosures, sharply contrasting opinions about "illegal immigration" and the widening disparity in wealth inequality in the United States. "Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation's income -- an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret. "(Nobel Prize Economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz, May 2011 Issue of Vanity Fair)

"The upper 1 percent of Americans is now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation's income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent."

  1. "While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous -- 12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades -- and more -- has gone to those at the top."(Stiglitz, May 2011 Vanity Fair)
  2. The overall poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent -- a statistically significant increase from 14.3 percent in 2009. This represents 46.2 million people living in poverty in 2010. This is the third consecutive statistically significant increase in the poverty rate. Marian Wright Edelman astutely reminded us in an op-ed blog earlier this week that "this is more than the entire combined populations of Iraq and Niger." And, that "a 2010 front page New York Times story reported that one in 50 -- or six million -- people in America had no income and depended on food stamps to stave off the wolves of hunger."
  3. There were 16.4 million children living in poverty in 2010, up from 15.5 million in 2009. The child poverty rate was 22.0 percent, which is a statistically significant increase from the 2009 rate of 20.7 percent. For African-American children, the poverty rate is 38.2 percent for 2010
  4. One of the most devastating consequences of widespread housing foreclosure has been the lost of the principal asset compromising African-American wealth. This has resulted in an historic disparity between white and African-American household wealth: "The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households," according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009. "These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009."

In addition to the events mentioned above. we also witnessed our national observance of the 10th Anniversary of "911," President Obama's speech to a special joint session of Congress on joblessness and the economy, watched the televised presentation of the President's speech to the 66th United Nations General Assembly, the speech of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, in support of Palestine's application to the UN for membership as an independent state, and the speech of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in opposition to the application of the PLO.

I never thought I would ever live to see and hear grandchildren of Jews who experienced Hitler's Holocaust, whose US counterparts constituted the bulwark of support for our civil rights movement, described by President Abbas of the Palestine Authority in his speech to the UN about Israel:

"The core issue is the policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people and all of the brutality of aggression and racial discrimination against our people that this policy entails."

All of this was occurring while the nation was also transfixed on the delay and eventual execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia. Over 600,000 people signed petitions calling for a stay of execution to review the original evidentiary witnesses' basis for his conviction; questioning whether it constituted "beyond a reasonable doubt."

However, what should be of grave concern to all persons of goodwill is the rising antipathy, sheer meanness, disrespect, anger, hostility not just to President Obama's policies but to him personally, and to the First Lady. There is a palpable atmosphere of anger and bitterness that is regrettably reminiscent of the sharp divisions in the country during the Vietnam War and some periods during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Where is all of this hatred and escalating hostility toward President Obama coming from? It seems to be transcending and going beyond traditional policy differences. There are shades of the domestic politics of the Cold War. President Obama is depicted as being "a socialist," "un-American," implying something akin to "disloyalty," describing him as seeking to impose some "ruthless form of governance" upon the American people; requiring those who "really care" about America "to take our country back."

Take our country back FROM WHERE?

Why are the religious leaders of the faith-based community in our country silent at this time? What more has to occur for them to break their silence and exercise needed moral leadership to stop this escalating and virulent hate speech by those opposed to President Obama? Dr. King often said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

In 2008, America wanted to believe we could be the best that we could be. Presidential candidate Barack Obama, like Martin Luther King, Jr articulated a prophetic hope and optimism about the goodness of our people; ALL people -- irrespective of race, color, or gender.

What has occurred since then to make a substantial part of Congress set aside their constitutional oath and responsibility to govern in the best interest of our country, and, instead commit themselves to defeat and deny Obama's re-election, at all cost?

President Obama is accused of proposing job recovery and deficit reduction programs that are based on "class warfare." Some on the left, part of Obama's most enthusiastic original voter base, feel "betrayed," claiming his major failing was to "bail out Wall Street" on the backs of Main Street, and the poor. Most of the vitriol, however, is not coming from the left.

There are approximately 14 months to the November 2012 presidential election. On the basis of current political discourse in the media and in public forums, political debate and discussion are likely to become more mean and ugly.

People in a position to know, in contact with the White House, have shared with me information that First Lady Michelle Obama has received more threats to her personal safety than all other previous First Ladies combined. This suggests that it is no longer unreasonable or alarmist speculation to express their serious concern about the ultimate personal safety of the President and First Lady.

Current animosity and public expression of meanness toward the President reminds me of a conversation I had with an elderly African-American woman in Oakland, CA in 2008. She explained to me why she was going to vote for Hillary Clinton and not Barack Obama in the primary. She said, she really wanted to vote for Barack Obama, but she felt like grandmother towards him; and, as such, she had a moral obligation to protect him. If she voted for him for President, and he got elected, she said "they will do to him what they did to President Kennedy and Dr. King."

I am optimistic, however, that the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson (quoted in the caption for this blog) will ultimately prevail. Are you?