Monday, March 16, 2015

Existential Threats Within and Without

When I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s we lived under a palpable existential threat to the United States. Despite what you might have seen in newsreels about that time, I don't recall ever hiding under a school desk in mock preparation to thwart the impact of an atomic explosion. 

Nuclear catastrophe was made real through film. On the Beach. Dr. Strangelove. Fail-Safe. Mutual assured destruction kept the bomb bays at bay, the missiles siloed.

Two countries I care deeply about--the United States and Israel are engaged in what some of their leaders believe are existential negotiations to prevent Iran from developing nuclear bomb making capabilities. I trust Israel and the U.S. have the means to militarily thwart any actual attempt by Iran to fulfill the rantings of its ayatollahs and government leaders.

What I have less confidence in is the ability of both of my revered countries to withstand internal attacks on their respective values. Hallowed, respected practices of diplomacy and legislative discourse have been cast aside for short term political gain.

Repeatedly Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu has announced new housing projects at moments that disrespected the Obama administration. Now, in a last ditch effort to corral votes before Tuesday's election, Bibi has finally been candid about his position on an independent Palestinian state--it won't happen under his watch.

Which means Israel would continue on a path of denial to others of a basic human right the country's founders fought for beginning nearly 100 years ago. I am well aware of the physical dangers a Palestinian state could pose. One need only consider what Hamas has turned the Gaza Strip into, or what Hezbollah has done to southern Lebanon.

But the threat to the democratic values of Israel are greater. To keep a  people perpetually subjugated is to foster a mindset of inhumanity, of intolerance. No civilized nation could hope to survive long term as a denier  of dignity and opportunity. This is the  real existential threat facing Israel as its people go to the polls Tuesday.

The United Stares has been a land of expanded opportunity since its inception. Though equality and equal opportunity were not available to all at the outset the whole thrust of our national existence had been to extend these rights, first to all men, not just landowners, then to blacks, then to women. Targeted legislation corrected what didn't get implemented at first. When economic forces polarized society, government stepped in to create safety nets--social security, Medicare, Medicaid  and the like.

The arc of history has been to open the doors to all. Except now. In far too many Republican controlled governments efforts are underway to roll back opportunity and helping hand legislation. The Haves do not want the Have Nots to have any of their good fortune.

Moreover, Republicans have sought to undermine the validity of our established form of government. Over the last six years they have questioned the constitutionality of our elected president. They have poisoned political discourse. They have stymied the appointment process, they have unhinged the economic foundation of our national budget. They have questioned the validity of numerous scientific theories to the detriment of our educational and environmental futures. They have refused to fund necessary infrastructure investments unless they can gut social service programs, as if investing in our populous is not an investment in our future. They have most recently challenged the president's ability to conduct foreign negotiations.

I am not against political debate. Lord knows George W. Bush gave Democrats plenty of reason to attack him and his policies. But never did Democratic opposition rise to the level it has under Republican/Tea Party extremism.

We are approaching a dangerous point of extreme polarity in politics and economics. Unless we move to the center in both areas--compromising in legislation as we provide more opportunity for the underprivileged while requiring more taxes from the economic elite--I fear the existential risk to our democratic republican experiment will only heighten.

Sent from my iPhone