It would be simple if we could think of Ohio – or any of our 50 states – as composed of only two sets of citizens: those who know the truth and those who don’t. But we Americans are all more alike than different. And we cannot sever our fortunes from each other.
Nevertheless, our ignorance of each other is killing us. Lost in our illusion of perfect “American Independence” – that fictional state in which we thrive without help from anyone else – we have one mantra: Every man for himself. (Or every woman.) We have neither the inclination nor the time to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before we judge them unworthy and leave them behind altogether.
Rich or poor, white or not, religious or non-religious, voters or non-voters, whatever our differences, we are we and they are they. They made their bed; they can lie in it. Of course, if they are rich or famous, we want to know what kind of sheets they have, the types of food they are served in bed, the fabric of their night clothes, and with whom they sleep. If they are poor, sick, elderly, refugees, homeless, hungry or struggling in any way that requires the help of someone else to survive, we advise them to take personal responsibility for their predicament.
We cannot be our brother’s keeper while we are lost in our own pursuit of the rapidly disappearing American Dream.
I thought for a while, Dear Ohio, you could help us find ourselves again. After all, you are part of the Heartland of America, a place where our national soul is said to reside. Your ancestors were the courageous adventurers who left their homelands or other well-established places to plant their feet on new soil. Their progeny were among those who dared farther exploration to build businesses, farms, families and communities even farther West. They were courageous. They were good neighbors. They were among the bright lights that led us forward into the new centuries.
Not anymore. Ohioans, like Californians, have become today’s Americans. Today’s Americans are a people filled with fear, buttressed by hatred, afraid of knowledge, and short on compassion. We think that sending the little pulses of our thoughts and feelings through the veins of social media will substitute for the interesting, challenging, but hard work of trying to understand each other and the world around us. We think a tweet is just as good as sitting next to someone, looking them in the eye, and thinking what we might feel or do if we were in their shoes. We think the unverified statement of someone online is more credible than witnessing reality.
Today, an Ohio farmer can hardly be distinguished from a Central Valley farmer in California who rails about the statewide solutions to water shortages, while the almonds he plans to sell to China are parching in the orchards. The farmer says Washington is at fault, or maybe the city-dwellers who waste all the water. In reality, neither the farmer nor the city dwellers ever cared much about the water supply until the prices went sky-high and they were forced to let their lawns or their crops die.
A big corporation that once hired thousands of Ohioans can hardly be distinguished from a corporation that once hired thousands of Californians. The great names of corporate America still adorn our streets and buildings. They are absent from the waste dumps and broken down factories, the gaping holes that once were mountaintops, and toxic soils left behind when these great companies left us in search of cheap labor. We didn’t mind the waste and toxins while our parents and grandparents were earning union salaries that kept us solidly in the middle class.
A typical conservative in Ohio rails about the same things as a conservative in California: taxes are too high; government is too big; the rest of the world is sucking America dry, and Americans clamoring for food or housing are just too lazy to work. A liberal in Ohio thinks government is not doing enough for people in need. If we can borrow to fund the vast military-industrial complex, why can’t we feed and house our people? Why can’t we give them health care? Educate them? In reality, a great number of us don’t have any idea of the real story behind costs and proposals for doing or not doing any of this.
An Ohioan who doesn’t vote is just like a Californian who doesn’t vote. Many who do vote haven’t done a lick of study on the ballot choices. They go by what they hear or what their friends say. They only listen to people they think are like themselves. They have no idea if the people and initiatives they vote for will hurt them or help them.
In these and many more ways, we Americans are more alike than different. We like to call ourselves the greatest nation in the free world. We like our political candidates to wear the flag on their lapels and ask God to bless America, as opposed to blessing Venezuela or the Philippines. We do not wish to be bothered with a deeper understanding of people we perceive as unlike us. We are uncomfortable examining the bases for our opinions. We do not want to share what we have with each other or anyone else in the world. Not our money, our neighborhoods, or our freedom, the last diminishing as we speak.
I am beginning to wonder if even the great state of Ohio can save us from our ignorance of each other. If not, we shall go the way of other once-great nations. We shall give up our greatest possessions – our compassion for one another, our thirst for knowledge and new horizons, and our courage to face the future. We shall give them up in exchange for a false promise that as long as we can guard the boundary between ourselves and others who are not like us, we shall remain among the Chosen.
Dear Ohio, save us if you can.