Danielle McLaughlin: Hope amidst the hurricane

A tale of two Americas: Can the nation overcome divisions ranging from race to religion?

A tale of two Americas: Can the nation overcome divisions ranging from race to religion?

Opinion: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

This week, as torrential rains drowned our southern states and we swam (some more) in the turbulent waters of political upheaval, Charles Dickens' allegory emerged in clear relief.

The famous novel embodying optimism and despair, opportunities and  threats, and the contradictory way living history is viewed by those experiencing it differently, is an apt metaphor in a nation rife with duality:  A two-party system of government destined to work like a metronome of political favour and disfavour.  A palpable ideological divide between urban and rural, from guns to God to immigration.

Danielle McLaughlin finds inspiration from Charles Dickens and hopes that the US can heal.

Danielle McLaughlin finds inspiration from Charles Dickens and hopes that the US can heal.

A widening chasm of income inequality between the haves and the have-nots. The incongruence of American experience based on race, manifest most clearly in the unequal treatment of African Americans at the hands of police and the justice system. The clash between the beliefs held sincerely by some in the Christian majority, and the struggle for equal treatment by LGBT Americans. 

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It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.

On North Korea, the Secretary of State, whose reputation for clear eyed leadership brightens as the President's fades, assured skittish Americans that diplomacy remained on the table as the President sought to demonstrate strength and appease his base by telling Kim Jong-Un that the time for talking was over.

It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.

On faith, a Houston mattress store owner threw profits out the window to convert his store into a hurricane shelter, as millionaire televangelist Joel Osteen dragged his feet opening his mega-church – with room for thousands – to shelter his flood-ravaged neighbours.

It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.

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On protest, exceptionally American guarantees of free speech allowed anti-fascists to march in the streets. Like the Nazis and White Supremacists before them, they were free to do so because the First Amendment rights embodied in this nation's Constitution allow for the airing of all, including abhorrent, speech.

It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

On Hurricane Harvey, a historically unpopular President saw an opportunity in the devastation to lead, unify, and improve his ratings, as trillions of gallons of rain fell from the sky in Texas and Louisiana, devastating cities and upending lives. 

We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.

On immigration, the President called an end to an Obama-era programme allowing immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to stay.  As anti-immigration groups rejoiced, thousands of mothers across the country held their children close and contemplated sending them to countries they had never known.

We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

On LGBT rights, activists laid plans to further secure equal protection under law by challenging the President's ban on transgender people serving in the military, as more than one hundred evangelical leaders across the country signed the "Nashville Statement" denying, among other things, "that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God's holy purposes in creation and redemption."

Most Americans believe the President is the cause of the fresh fractures between us. But we have also been separating from each other for decades as media, politics, social media, and even geography creates echo chambers defining the contours of our beliefs, insulating us from different people with different views.  There are no more conservative Democrats in Congress.  There are no more liberal Republicans in Congress. This should be a warning to any democracy smugly assured in the indestructible ties that bind it.

And yet, where did Dickens lead us with his tale of two cities? To hope: "I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out."

Here's to hope.

 - Sunday Star Times


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