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“Myth” has gotten itself a bad rap, with only itself to blame by proposing two opposed meanings. Ditto “cleave” or “splice,” which suggest both joining and separation. “Quantum” depicts both minute and elephantine, as in “quantum physics” yet also “quantum leap.” “Sanction” is my favorite bi-polar, bizarrely defining either to approve or to censure (commandments sanction, embargoes sanction).
Such ensembles of mixed cues especially suit today’s boorish Tea Party contradictions. “Patriots” eagerly sanction (protest) oppressive taxation except when shouting for state funding against abortion and gay marriage, for school prayer and water-boarding – staunchly favoring the at will decimation of far-off, unthreatening, unchristian nations.
When 86% (!) of us in last weekend’s poll conclude government is broken, we’re talking not just systemic breakdowns, but the disintegration of unifying mythologies that define core relationships and make co-operation, even mutual survival possible. When paralysis is apparent even to nitwits, we must look beyond personalities or partisanship to divergences in belief systems that fragment the nation, what people assume, often unconsciously, to be good and true.
That takes us from political wrangling to the disintegrating values that once bound this country. You can’t honor the Constitution or the Founding Fathers and not honor the legitimacy of elections when your team loses or disdain lawful restraints against all terrorists, domestic and foreign. Unless reason, logic and hypocrisy have no place in your dumbed-down belief system.
Tyranny by Minority Myths
The word “myth” means both demonstrably false assertions or beliefs (the earth is flat, “death panels” loom) plus its opposite: foundation “truths” dwelling within every organization, from family to civilization – permanent, ruling assumptions informing moral codes and social contracts. Gregarious humans aren’t about tool usage or problem-solving but covenants that govern behavior, like “Thou shall not steal” or “bear false witness” or “Thou shall not kill” (commit murder). Without which property, justice and contracts, indeed life itself would be vulnerable.
Of late, well-calculated assaults on the American way have split the world’s most diverse immigrant nation, driven by fundamentalist intolerance of non-white Protestants, growing economic inequality and crippling blows to citizen intelligence standards. Rightwing media profits by spreading false, divisive myths that make any “other” into an enemy (whether terrorist or liberal). This is no academic commentary. Mythic divergences explain why neighbors end up screaming at each other and why after 75 years of debate 50 million Americans falter without health insurance.
Minority Vetoes at Work
Thus, when health reform is no more than “government takeover,” that conflicts with mythic radical individualism, invoking fears of tyranny, not curing illness. If health reform, instead, is about rescuing suffering infants or helping parents raise families, with cost controls, then it’s about life over death and health over illness. Likewise when democratic elections are stripped of credibility, then elemental mythic values of one-man, one vote, the basis for majority rule, evaporate. When minority Tea Partiers reject the “will of the people” when electing Democrats, they enact an anti-democratic filibuster against presidential authority to rule, to define problems, propose solutions, or pass legislation. Nullification is a lawless veto by the minority, in effect the global Politics of No.
In this context, the vast rightwing conspiracy, dogging Bill Clinton for years, triumphed with his impeachment, dealing a double blow to governance and confidence in American values. Then came the 2000 fiasco, when the unqualified guy with 500k less votes took the prize thanks to his brother’s state machinations and a GOP-certified Supreme Court. That magnified this second blow, shredding faith in vote counting, thus electoral politics, without which democracy is a sham. That Bush’s radical presidency devastated the Constitution (that elevated him) – and a slew of our best values – only reinforced the catastrophe.
Obama, Discredited by Knee-jerkers
Next up was an excruciating rerun of “reject-the-Democrat,” anti-Obama hysteria, more virulent now against a dark-skinned minority winner. Fanatics out for blood against the liberal-sounding, southern white guy now viciously slam an urban black president they can’t abide. Shockingly, 40% of Republicans support his impeachment, a travesty absent a glimmer about high crimes or misdemeanors. The coverage given such delusional nullifications added a third straight nail in the democratic coffin. And Palin is still out there selling her fake myths.
That irrational “birthers” (and allies) weren’t instantly discredited defines an unbridgeable gap in basic values obscured since Joe McCarthy’s rantings. This gap explains the diseased outrage against election results, prompting overt threats of violence, praise for criminal assault against office buildings, and multi-state calls for secession movements. That signals not just broken government but a broken body politic stripped of communal glue, presaging more civil disorder.
Likewise, when Senate extremists misuse the filibuster for every appointment and every issue, majority rule staggers. Virulent-enough minorities can topple legitimate governments, thus today’s calls for a Constitutional Convention. If unchecked, broken government gridlock grows into deadlock and bloodshed. Any terrorist who elevates dogma (religious or not) puts himself above all others and the law, contradicting the very Ten Commandments fundamentalists claim to endorse – and want to display.
Who Owns America?
In the same light, Tea Partiers’ mythic delusions about wanting “their country” back would be laughable if not subversive. A tribe ignorant of history asserts American greatness answers to WASP origins, owing everything, in John Cassidy’s words, to “a rugged and God-fearing band of Anglo-Saxon individualists armed with pikes and long guns.” So much for exiled Native Americans, or abused African slaves, Mexicans and Asians – plus Europeans, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims – contributing more than their share of blood and brains.
False myths swamp us because rightwing media pollution jumbles reactionary politics with reactionary religion:
1) Foreign invasions are solely for self-defense and expanding democracy, not dominion;
2) Torture is morally-justified, producing good intelligence, while anti-war criticism is treason;
3) America the Christian nation boasts the new chosen people standing against “evil-doers;”
4) The Bible, scientifically and historically true, presents an evangelical God judging us for abortion and homosexuality or dismissing school prayer or Creationism.
5) “American exceptionalism” is divinely-ordained, justifying worldwide dominance;
6) Republicans favor the free market, average folks, individual rights, and small government.
Of course, Obama liberals have their own fistful of fictions, too, for example, 1) the president’s a liberal fighting for systemic change, 2) who speaks for minorities, the poor, or the jobless, 3) Afghanistan-Pakistan wars are about self-defense, 4) bipartisanship works, 5) bailing out Wall Street bailed out the middle-class, even 6) Obama opposes entrenched powers or compromising away basic rights.
We All Hang Together . . .
Vital, enduring myths prevail: we are a successful melting pot (WASPs, too), our diverse blend has enriched us culturally and economically, and we are marginally freer than others (unless profiled as a “Muslim terrorist”). Yet long-held myths (and reality) about social mobility, however, are dissolving, as public services decline and haves prosper while the poor stagnate. Obama himself reinforces powerful aspirations, that practically anyone, even a minority, can ascend from food stamps to the White House, get rich quick (five years), and scold robber barons who subsidized his election.
Along with democracy and elections, American mythology still favors opportunity, but there will be less when national wealth crumples alongside neglected infrastructure, seas rise and resources get misused. Not funding education, research, science and innovation that made us a rich nation is willful ignorance beyond words. If America fails, don’t blame outsiders but internal contradictions, institutionized greed, and massive breakdowns in communal beliefs, with tectonic implications. Immigrant nations are unified not by religion or ethnicity but the adopted, mythic critical mass under severe attack. That makes all the more relevant this admonition from Abe Lincoln during our first Civil War: “If all do not join now to save the good old ship of the Union this voyage, nobody will have a chance to pilot her on another voyage.”