I See America

As we approach this most joyous time of year, a time of giving, of good will, of caring for our fellow humans, especially those among us with the least of resources, I want to share the words of Dan Rather which I put in this space a couple of years ago. I’ll do that in a minute. But first a word about our own community.

Three weeks ago today I was helping to prepare food boxes for distribution through the Food Pantry of Mother Teresa Outreach at my church, Spirit of Life in Mandan. The food pantry is operated by the Carmelite Sisters assigned to our parish, and those wonderful ladies feed hundreds of needy people each week.

Food for the boxes is collected in two ways—through the Great Plains Food Bank, and by parishioners and others who bring donations to the church. This would be a good week for all of us to contribute, and you can find out how to do so by going to their website.

“It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.” ~ Mother Teresa

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, as I joined the other volunteers in preparing the Thanksgiving meal food boxes, I observed more than 100 families quietly enter the back door of the church, sign the forms for receiving the food (many of them did so very quickly, since they were regular visitors and had done this many times before) and then humbly walk to the sister standing at the food distribution line, hand her the form, thank her, and pick up the heavy boxes with food for Thanksgiving weekend and depart as quietly as they had come in. Elderly, frail and disabled visitors got help taking the food to their cars from the volunteers.

It was a happy and sad time for me, as I realized how fortunate I was to be among those who were distributing the food, not among those who needed it, and seeing the gratitude in the dark eyes of those who came asking for help, knowing that for many of them, this was likely all they would have to eat that holiday weekend.

The scene will be repeated again next week, in the days before Christmas, and I will again be there to help provide Christmas food boxes to needy fellow Americans.

Fellow Americans.

As I drove home from the church that Monday before Thanksgiving, thinking about what I had just participated in, I recalled something I had put on my blog a couple of years earlier written by Dan Rather, a piece called “I See America.”

It was December of 2017, when Congress, nearing the end of President Donald Trump’s first year in office, was putting the finishing touches on the new President’s tax overhaul scheme. Dan Rather wrote his piece in response to uncaring remarks by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, about repeal of the estate tax.

Read this with a dry eye, if you can.

I See America

By Dan Rather

When the time comes, and I hope it comes soon, to bury this era of moral rot and the defiling of our communal, social, and democratic norms, the perfect epitaph for the gravestone of this age of unreason should be Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s already infamous quote:

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing… as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Grassley’s vision of America, quite frankly, is one I do not recognize. I thought the heart of this great nation was not limited to the ranks of the plutocrats who are whisked through life in chauffeured cars and private jets, whose often inherited riches are passed along to children, many of whom no sacrifice or service is asked. I do not begrudge wealth, but it must come with a humility that money never is completely free of luck. And more importantly, wealth can never be a measure of worth.

I have seen the waitress working the overnight shift at a diner to give her children a better life, and yes maybe even take them to a movie once in a while – and in her, I see America.

I have seen the public school teachers spending extra time with students who need help and who get no extra pay for their efforts, and in them I see America.

I have seen parents sitting around kitchen tables with stacks of pressing bills and wondering if they can afford a Christmas gift for their children, and in them I see America.

I have seen the young diplomat in a distant foreign capital and the young soldier in a battlefield foxhole, and in them I see America.

I have seen the brilliant graduates of the best law schools who forgo the riches of a corporate firm for the often thankless slog of a district attorney or public defender’s office, and in them I see America.

I have seen the librarian reshelving books, the firefighter, police officer, and paramedic in service in trying times, the social worker helping the elderly and infirm, the youth sports coaches, the PTA presidents, and in them I see America.

I have seen the immigrants working a cash register at a gas station or trimming hedges in the frost of an early fall morning, or driving a cab through rush hour traffic to make better lives for their families, and in them I see America.

I have seen the science students unlocking the mysteries of life late at night in university laboratories for little or no pay, and in them I see America.

I have seen the families struggling with a cancer diagnosis, or dementia in a parent or spouse. Amid the struggles of mortality and dignity, in them I see America.

These, and so many other Americans, have every bit as much claim to a government working for them as the lobbyists and moneyed classes. And yet, the power brokers in Washington today seem deaf to these voices. It is a national disgrace of historic proportions.

And finally, what is so wrong about those who must worry about the cost of a drink with friends, or a date, or a little entertainment, to rephrase Senator Grassley’s demeaning phrasings? Those who can’t afford not to worry about food, shelter, healthcare, education for their children, and all the other costs of modern life, surely they too deserve to be able to spend some of their “darn pennies” on the simple joys of life.

Never mind that almost every reputable economist has called this tax bill a sham of handouts for the rich at the expense of the vast majority of Americans and the future economic health of this nation. Never mind that it is filled with loopholes written by lobbyists. Never mind that the wealthiest already speak with the loudest voices in Washington, and always have. Grassley’s comments open a window to the soul of the current national Republican Party and it it is not pretty. This is not a view of America that I think President Ronald Reagan let alone President Dwight Eisenhower or Teddy Roosevelt would have recognized. This is unadulterated cynicism and a version of top-down class warfare run amok.

God Bless You, Dan Rather. And God Bless America during this Christmas season of 2019.


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