Saturday, June 27, 2015

Grace in America

As I watched Obama's extraordinary speech yesterday, I was struck with a sense of sadness. Sadness at the senseless violence that once again was the form of expression chosen by an alienated soul, yes, but also a larger sadness. A sadness for what could have been. Obama was elected on a platform of hope and change. He embraced big ideas, and sought positive change for all. He cares about breaking cycles of poverty, and about creating a better life for everyone.

Yet all that hope, and all that change, were blocked at every turn by entrenched interests in Congress, fueled by money and engineered by lobbyists. A hatred of the President, racism barely below the surface, fed a childish tantrum that reflexively opposed everything the President suggested, everything he stood for.

Everyone is saying what a great week this has been for the President. But it's only a great week in the context of what has come before. Yes, the Affordable Care Act survived yet another court challenge. But the very fact that this watered down version of universal health care is the subject of so much opposition is troubling. Saving it is a small victory - introducing truly universal, single payer healthcare would have been worth celebrating. But in today's America, small victories are all that's on offer. Yes, same sex marriage is now legal across the country, but it is far from universally accepted. The vitriol in the Court's dissenting opinions, and from many of the Republican leaders, is baffling. This is an issue that will have no effect on their lives, yet could have profound, positive effects on the lives of others. Their strident opposition to something that costs them nothing can be born of only judgmental hate.

The President's speech was heartfelt. To me, there was a tone of desperation, of resignation, of exhaustion. It was the speech of a man who, free of the burden of re-election aspirations, could speak honestly. A man who has come to realize that despite all his efforts, most of what he wanted to achieve would be left undone. Like many eulogies given following a senseless death, Obama was searching for meaning, for a shred of goodness that might be gleaned from the pain. It was clear, though, that this searching transcended the Pastor's death. His earlier insistence that things had improved was no doubt true. That he felt he had to say it said so much more.

When the President spoke of grace, he intended to celebrate the extraordinary grace shown by the people of Charleston in dealing with the targeted attack on their community. But in doing so, he, perhaps inadvertently, highlighted the absence of grace in so much of modern day America. Few would use "grace" to describe the daily machinations in Washington. Few would use "grace" to describe the goals of the NRA, the defenders of the Confederate flag, the angry selfishness of the Tea Party. Grace, like much of Obama's presidency, represents what can be, what should be, but what still seems out of reach.

When the history of this era is written, will it be seen as a presidency ahead of its time, yet the start of a transformation towards an America that truly represents its ideals of "life, liberty and justice for all"? Or will it be seen as a last grasp at decency, before the moral and economic decay of a once great society accelerated so quickly it became irretrievable?

Sadly, for me, yesterday seemed to be a funeral not only for Reverend Pinckney, but for the hope and the promise Obama once symbolized.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An Open Letter to My Conservative MP

I continue to receive fundraising calls & emails from the Conservative Party. I wanted to write to you to make it clear why I will not donate to the party.

Over the past several years, the policies of the Conservative Party have become increasingly harsh. There seems to be no compassion left in the party. There's a willingness to simply toss aside, or worse condemn, people who live in poverty, or people who have made mistakes. A "with us or against us" mentality has taken hold, with no room for compromise or forgiveness, and no interest in understanding the lives of those who do not fit into the mould of what the party appears to consider "real Canadians".

Instead of promoting policies that could benefit all segments of society, this government has promoted a culture of fear. Unprecedented surveillance of Canadians is now routine, and through Bills C-24 and C-51, this government has extended even more extraordinary powers to law enforcement & intelligence agencies, to be exercised largely in secret and without adequate oversight. This is in response to an exaggerated threat of "terrorism" (a word that seems to have a very flexible, result-driven definition). These laws, in my view, cannot survive a Charter challenge. The government has been unwilling to even listen to the reasonable concerns of the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, several Privacy Commissioners, as well as many other respected organizations and individuals. The Commons Committee hearings were a sham, and showed contempt for anyone who did not fully support the Bills.

I am old enough to remember the USSR, and the stories of people being spied on by the government, being arrested without charge and detained without recourse. We in the west were appalled at their tactics, and felt quite smug about our freedoms. It is deeply disturbing to me that our government no longer views such surveillance and detention as intrusive and excessive, and seems to be following in the Soviet footsteps.

This is not my Canada. It is not the Canada I grew up in, and it is not the Canada I want to live in. It is not the Canada I want to hand over to my children.

Instead of donating to the Conservative Party, I will be offering my money, my support, and my help to organizations who are fighting to reverse these trends, and to restore the compassionate Canada I believe the majority of Canadians want and deserve.

Yours truly,

David Harvey
Burlington, Ontario