Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Democracy

Sometime between the passage of the Health Care Bill and the Tea Party outcry that followed, it became fashionable for folks to focus their collective death glare on illegal immigrants. It's no coincidence that this is happening in an election year, but the vitriol on display in recent weeks has really been something else. From Arizona's unconsitutional new law that gives police perpetual probable cause to detain "immigrants", to Tim James absurd "English Only" campaign video parodied above and Dan Fanelli's too-crazy-to-be-real-but-it-is ad, Americans are being baited into an Us vs Them mentality that will serve to even further stratify an already divided populace. Just as politicians have been willing to sell their soul to tea-baggers for cheap political points, they are just as unscrupulous in trying to tap into other pools of unfocused anger.

It's true, many honest people are out of work in this country, but no one truly believes that illegal immigrants are the ones snatching great jobs from the jaws of hardworking folks. Illegal immigrants work long hours at terrible wages to provide us with fresh produce or to make sure that hotel accommodations are agreeable. They scrape and save and do tasks that 99% of Americans could not fathom doing at any price, all for the prospect of a meagerly better life for their family. In the immortal words of Mike Rowe, they make "civilized life possible for the rest of us".

So why aren't people riled up when a corporation outsources five thousand jobs overseas and leave ordinary Americans holding their hats? Because companies are engineered to be faceless, shapeless, sterile entities. They may receive a sound drubbing for a few news cycles, but they know people have a short memory. It's much easier for people to hate the stick instead of the person holding the stick. When we feel put upon we see complex issues in black and white and look for the first scapegoat that fits the bill. Sometimes this is a product of fear, but more often than not, it is anger at its core.

The central question that the American people need to ask themselves with hot-button issues like this is, "Which came first, the issue or the politician?" If these folks could table their fury for 5 minutes, they will see that these politicians aren't opening our eyes to an issue, they are orchestrating it. They stir the communal pot into a boiling fervor and ride its wave as far as it will take them. It is cheap, it is easy, but it works only with our consent.

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