The Americans, on the contrary, are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other, and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state. ~Alexis de Tocqueville
In the 1800s, a young Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville spent the better part of a year in America – which at the time was a freshly-baked country that piqued the interest of thinkers all over the world.
How on earth would this whole “we the people” style of governing work out? they wondered.
So De Tocqueville came to the U.S. to find out. He wrote about what he experienced in his book Democracy in America. And one of the things he found particularly intriguing was a commonly-held value he observed in Americans.
“[T]he principle of interest rightly understood.”
Americans, he found, recognized that their own lives were improved if they all joined in to make all of society better. With time, with property, with whatever – assisting one another meant they, too, were assisted. This sense of community – of joint purpose – benefited the greater good, and each individual member in turn.
You may have heard me refer to that principle as it was paraphrased by the late Paul Wellstone, beloved Senator from Minnesota: “We all do better, when we all do better.”
That’s a lesson that Republicans have been trying to get us to unlearn for some time, now. Since Regan, half the country has been convinced to believe in a myth of “rugged individualism” – that “interference” in the form of regulation by the state makes us weaker, not stronger. That the only thing government and its New Deal era “entitlements” accomplish is rewarding people for laziness. (There is a lot of racism wrapped up in this as well, of course.)
Meanwhile, Republicans lobby for lower taxes (so these so-called rugged individuals and businesses can be better off) while public education, healthcare, roads and bridges – all of the benefits of modern society that are fed through a societal compact that we’ll all participate – are flailing.
The result of that frame of thinking is that a big chunk of the country – and the people they elect – now question if we really all do better, when we all do better. Or whether they’d be personally better off if they cast the rest of society to one side and carried on solo.
Until COVID, one of the best examples was parents objecting to having to pay taxes that benefit public schools when they can pull their own children out for private school. If my child will do better in a private school, why am I burdened with having to “take care” of someone else’s child? If I don’t need the service, I shouldn’t have to pay for it!
Now, unfortunately, Republicans have outdone themselves – shunning public health measures like masks and vaccinations. They like to call their vision freedom and self-sufficiency (it’s more like selfishness), and label looking out for others and having a greater sense of community “communism.” Or maybe Marxism. Or socialism.
It’s none of those -isms.
It’s the simple principle that has made our country successful and great for 200 years: the belief that if we all join together, there’s nothing we can’t overcome.
It’s the polar opposite of the new Republican vision of retreating unto ourselves, looking out only for “our team.” Predictably, there is an ever-shrinking definition of team. First it was Americans. Then it was white Christian Americans. Now it’s Republicans.
I had hoped that a worldwide pandemic would shake some sense into everyone and get people to see that a global problem requires a unified national (and global) response.
So far, that’s not been the case. Instead, the worse things have gotten, the more they have dug in their heels. (That makes some sense from a psychological perspective; they have a lot of crow to eat if they change course now, and their image apparently means more to them than the health of their constituents.)
Take Missouri (again, the poster child for how elected officials should not behave). As certainly you’ve seen on the news, our COVID numbers are horrific – with hospitals running out of room, hospital administrators begging people to get vaccinations, and increasing infection rates. All of this has happened due to the numbers in outstate Missouri, which is more rural and less populated.
Delta is, however, on the move, and is increasingly prevalent in the more populated areas of Kansas City and St. Louis. St. Louis and its surrounding St. Louis County have 1/6 of the population of the state of Missouri. While both jurisdictions are generally better vaccinated than rural Missouri, there are pockets with very low vaccination rates.
There is serious concern about what will happen when the Delta variant takes hold in those metro areas, and the now-near-vertical epidemiological curve demands fast action.
So, last week, the County Executive of St. Louis County (who is a medical doctor) and the Mayor of St. Louis (who is a black woman) announced that beginning yesterday masks would be required in St. Louis City and County.
Cue the outrage.
Since then, the GOP Attorney General (who is running for US Senate) has filed a lawsuit, the Governor – who has steadfastly refused to order any statewide mask mandates (because he was too chicken) has denounced it on Twitter, a St. Louis County Councilman has appeared on Fox News decrying the “tyranny,” local mayors have vowed not to enforce mask orders, the former GOP County Executive candidate is holding a rally outside the County Council meeting tonight where Councilmembers are promising to vote to overturn the mask order….
All because government officials are simply demanding that people act in the best interests of others and wear a mask because Republicans won’t do so on their own.
I can’t help but think that, had the GOP not spent the last 30 years conditioning people to believe they shouldn’t help carry the load if they don’t have skin in the game, we’d not be in this mess. They’ve decoupled an entire political party from thinking it has a duty toward anyone else our society – and have elegantly marketed this self-centered philosophy as “personal responsibility.”
I give them full credit for branding.
I give them zero credit for understanding what this country was founded on, and what really has made it “great.”
I think we’ll see this play out over the next few months on the local level, as Delta makes its way across the country. We’ll see it play out on the national scene, as the GOP wrangles with what to do with an infrastructure bill that will benefit everyone.
I have great hope that, over the next few weeks, everyday Americans are going to speak up and make it clear that caring for one another isn’t a communist plot. It’s not socialism. It’s not tyranny.
It’s enlightened self interest – American to its core.
After all, we all do better, when we all do better.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of July 26, 2021:
Wednesday: Redistricting Training with Indivisible:
Register for Indivisible’s Redistricting Hearing Training on Wednesday, July 28 at 3pm ET/12pm PT. As states prepare to redistrict voting maps, how much do you really know about that process and the gerrymandering that often goes along with it? Take their 10-question Redistricting Quiz and see where your knowledge lands. Then, register for this Redistricting Hearing Training so that you can be informed about what resources are at your disposal on how redistricting works state by state. They’ll cover the most effective ways to participate in the redistricting process, including best practices for attending public hearings, participating in official online comment periods, and developing a community of interest.
Thursday: The Road to the Midterms!
The Midterms aren’t the first electoral contest we have … this November, Virginia has its statewide elections. That’s why our friends at Center for Common Ground say the “Road to the Mid-Terms goes through the Virginia in 2021.” The Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General statewide races will be held on November 2, 2021 in addition to all 100 State House seats.
Tune in on Thursday night for their webinar on the plan for Virginia 2021 and how you can help.
Also Thursday! Join Earthjustice to discuss Intersectional Justice:
What’s possible when we put economic, racial, and social justice at the core of what we advocate for?Join Earthjustice Senior Vice President of Programs, Sam Sankar, Vice President of Litigation for Climate and Energy, Jill Tauber, and environmental justice leader Michele Roberts to discuss and share a vision of intersectional justice and our role in the movement.
Speakers:- Sam Sankar, Senior Vice President of Programs, Earthjustice- Jill Tauber, Vice President of Litigation of Climate and Energy, Earthjustice- Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform;
Tune in on July 29 at 1pm to: https://www.facebook.com/events/840207443594961/?ref=newsfeed
Friday: Attend (Virtually) the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force’s next meeting:
The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force’s next meeting is scheduled for July 30, 2021 at 2 PM ET. The meeting is open to the public and can be viewed live at https://www.hhs.gov/live/live-1/index.html. No registration is needed.
If you wish to provide a public comment during the meeting please send an email with your name and affiliation by July 30, 2021 to: COVID19HETF@hhs.gov.
WHEW! GO TEAM!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.