Sunday, January 20, 2013

Inaugaration Day

In his commentary on Thung Zăn ("Union of Men"), the 13th Hexagram of the I Ching, Deng Ming-Dao notes that in our present era, we isolate ourselves from one another and allow our society to stratify into different classes. It is hard to remember that a true community, a true Union of Men, should be as easy as growing plants or sailing down a river. As easy as enjoying music together. In fact, a community that is hard to assemble or that must be maintained by coercion is not a true community.

It has been said that America has become a Balkanized nation, divided along territorial, political, racial, and economic lines.  You hear a lot of this kind of talk here in the American South,which has been isolated territorially, politically, racially, and economically for quite some time now.  

However, in a surprising display of unity, tomorrow this nation will inaugurate the second term of President Barack Obama while at the same time recognizing the public holiday for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I say "surprising" not only because of this nation's not inconsiderable history of slavery and genocide, but also because of the polarization of our society, both politically and socially.  

Re-election of the President indicates a great many good things in store for this country.  We will not repeal  Health Care Reform.  We will not have a Supreme Court that will overturn a woman's right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.  We will not privatize Social Security nor turn Medicare into a voucher system.  

As the nation considers reforming it's law on guns and firearms, reactionaries are claiming that American's constitutional right to bear arms is not only for self-protection, but also as a check and balance against the perceived tyranny of government.  As I understand it, these zealots consider it not only their right but their duty to wage an armed insurrection against the government if it strays too far from their interpretation of the Constitution.  

This is an odd and disturbing interpretation of the Second Amendment and it can lead to some disturbing consequences.  One group at one location may arm itself and vow overthrow based on what it considers unfair and too burdensome taxes, while another group elsewhere takes up arms against what it considers to be too great spending by the government and an unacceptable level of national debt, and yet another initiates revolution over the perception of  a loss of the right to bear arms.  Soon, this would lead to roaming troops of armed insurrectionists led by war lords, a situation such as that seen in Somalia and some other unfortunate nations.  In order to defend themselves from the warlords, the remainder of the population will have to either take up arms themselves and fight to maintain the status quo, or be herded into refugee camps and hope for protection and sustenance from outside agencies.

This is not a happy or comforting picture of America's future, nor most civilized people's idea of a true community.  According to the I Ching, a community sustains us, especially when we suffer disaster.  In bad times, the community pulls together.  In good times, we join together to further improve our lives.  The I Ching reminds us that the strong cannot be compelled, they must be softly induced. Good leadership requires flexibility rather than stiff force.  A wise ruler leads the strong by being open, modest, gentle, and giving.  

President Obama has had a great many accomplishments during his first term, but he also made many choices that disappointed me, including the continued national and international surveillance of citizens in the name of the Global War on Terror.  I am alarmed by his use of the Intelligence Community to commit actions such as targeted drone strikes, actions that should be considered Acts of War and thus authorized by Congress, not the President, and carried out be the Armed Forces, not by Intelligence.  I'm dismayed by his continued coddling of Wall Street and his Administration's lack of transparency.  

But the good far, far exceeds the bad, and still stands in marked contrast to his predecessor.  In fact, I still have faith that Obama can find the flexibility required to be open, modest, gentle, and giving, and be the kind of wise leader envisioned by the I Ching.

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