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The Souls Of American People

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When Roseanne Barr's allegedly drug-induced Twitter blast confronted the pretense of normalcy often portrayed on media sitcoms, it prompted a quick -- some would say, rash -- response from the network. ABC cancelled Roseanne's show within a few hours of her tweets and disavowed her racist comments about Obama advisor, Valerie Jarret.

In the ensuing days, other media personalities on the left received similar scrutiny for their own dubious and vulgar statements. Comedian Samantha Bee, in a scripted line from her show on TBS went as far as to attack the president's daughter for her father's immigration policies, using such vulgar and derisive language that also shocked the conscience. Joy Reid, an MSNBC anchor, had posted comments to her now-defunct blog displaying insensitivity toward gay people over a decade ago. As of the writing of this column, both have issued profuse apologies, but both, unlike Roseanne, still have their jobs -- for now.

Conservatives were quick to jump on the double standard, questioning why left-leaning personalities did not receive the harsh and unyielding treatment directed toward Roseanne. It would take more time and spilled ink than one could cover in a single column to parse through the various differences in contexts, that accompanied the various comments and consequential actions involved in these instances. Suffice it to say they aptly highlighted a soft spot in the liberal elite's fragile holiness.

The far broader and more significant point illustrated by these dynamics, is what they say about the soul of the American people. One of the major reasons ABC brought Roseanne's show back was that it was attempting to capture and profit from the rise in populism that brought President Trump to power. Indeed, Trump's victory highlighted an under-appreciated and some would say largely ignored segment of the American public to the forefront.

The media have attempted to characterize President Trump's rise to power as a function of the underlying racism and xenophobia in the hearts of Americans that Trump was able to drum up and marshal to his aid. As everyone with any sense of America knows, however, Donald Trump did not invent racism in America. Racism is, to a significant degree, one of America's original sins, and essentially a pre-existing condition to any current referendum on the state of the American psyche. Racism, bigotry and xenophobia are nothing new on the American landscape. Neither, however, are compassion, justice, democracy and empathy.

The differences between 2008 and 2016 stem from deeper causes -- they are causes that neither party have been willing to face and deal with. Many voters chose Trump not out of love for the man or even his message, but because they were fed up with the lack of progress on issues of concern for all Americans. They felt frustrated primarily because of the shifts in the economy that pre-dated and precipitated the economic collapse of 2007, which accelerated long-term trends in unemployment, stagnant economic growth and the decline of the middle class. Their anger was fueled by a sentiment that Washington's entrenched political class was enriching itself at the expense of the rest of the country. The banker-induced economic debacle and ensuing political bailout of the financial system by the American taxpayer was the ultimate insult to injury, to average Americans who struggled, and in many instances failed, to right their own financial fortunes.

The fractured relationship between America's political and business leadership and the American people, particularly the American middle class worker, is what is driving the extreme polarization we are seeing in American politics and popular culture. They are putting us all in extremely uncomfortable situations and straining at the souls of American people. No one wants to be unkind to his or her neighbor, but the neighbor is often the only person accessible when frustrations reach a boiling point. The political and economic elites can fly over in their fancy jets and land safely on the coasts, avoiding the hollowed-out shells of once-strong manufacturing towns and the declining fortunes of once-proud American workers.

These tensions will not be easily resolved unless we can dig deep within ourselves and reclaim our voices for truth and just. For equality of opportunity and a resumption of the generational trend of upward social mobility, it does a great disservice to the real aims of Americans to silence their frustrations with platitudes about 'civil discourse' or political correctness, when those ideas cannot put food on the table. It rings of ancient forms of blind elitism, such as when Marie Antoinette, the French King's wife, advised a starving peasantry to 'eat cake' after the country had run out of bread -- mainly due to the punitive taxation and exorbitant excess of the wealthy classes. Everyone knows what happened after that.

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