Tuesday

Hurricane Sandy, God's Message to America

I suspect that Superstorm Sandy is an Act of God, not in a legalistic sense of an unanticipated natural catastrophe, but something much more. Along with those who believe the words of our Pledge of Allegiance that we are a nation "under God,"  even though I am an atheist I have to conclude that this unprecedented event could not have been a meteorological accident.  No, just as God sent the flood that destroyed the world to send his warning to Noah, this too was a message to fulfill the promise he made to our founders.

His message is not to ignore the "one nation" part of the Pledge given under his name.  His saturating the cold winds over the north Atlantic, energizing the swirling  cyclone being brewed in the tropics, and sending them both on a twisted course to merge at the same hour off the coast of his "bestowed" country to submerge it's greatest city could never have been an accident  It was a biblical-level warning not to elect someone who would begin to destroy the great compromise of 1789, The Constitution of the United States of America, that E Pluribus Unum moment, when from many states was forged a single country.

The election to be held in a few days will be more than between two men, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but a referendum on two principles of governance.  Romney's being a reversion to the period when the United States of America was a loose alliance of sovereign states under the Articles of Confederation; the second is our country now, a nation indivisible.

As a people we have forgotten why we abandoned these Articles of Confederation.  This charter was based on the Republican political philosophy that will be achieved by devolution as defined by their standard bearer, who in every area, from health care to emergency response has stated that, "authority is always preferable at the most local level, states rather than the federal government".

Only through the distorted lens of this ideology is it possible that a universal heath care system could be admirable when it implemented by a state, but oppressive when extended to the larger polity, namely the United States of America.   Romney has also stated that emergency response to catastrophes, now under FEMA, should be replaced by state agencies.  This means that a tragedy, whether like what we are experiencing now in the Northeast, or the anticipated major earthquake in California, will not bring a national response, but be limited by state resources, all of which are now struggling to maintain existing services. This would become a source of dissension, very similar to what now exists in that other loose confederation of states, the European Union, that is on the brink of economic collapse as the richer nations are reluctant to come to the aid of those in the most economic stress.

Governing a small homogeneous polity is a simple task in itself.  What such entities, whether called states, countries or principalities, lack is the ability to survive natural calamities or invasion by more powerful empires.  This is why entities such as the United States, Great Britain and the Roman Empire are more stable over longer periods, continuously devising cultural, legal and technical innovations to sustain the challenges of diversity.  Living as we do in such a mature society, it is easy to see its problems and contradictions, while losing sight of why they came to be, and how,  in spite of these profound defects, it is still a system worth defending.

We see the artifacts of this grand compromise in our electoral college system of selection of president, which still reflects that era when states were sovereign and would only join this central government if they were ensured certain residual protections. We see it in our Senate, where contrary to democratic principles , each member retains a veto over most legislation.

Given the challenges, the conflicts including a great civil war, that flowed from creating a strong central government under the Constitution we must ask, as we have throughout our history, whether it was the right decision.  The answer has been provided in stark relief,  first by the current experience of the financial crisis of the European Union. But nothing could make it more clear than this "act of God" of Sandy.

The answer will be dramatized over the next few days, as the current president will face the limits of his power to assuage the pain of millions who are victims of this natural disaster. The danger is that the very party that fosters devolution, a virtual return to the Articles of Confederation that would vastly limit the resources to help the victims of this natural disaster, could successfully spin this as a personal failure of the President. What must be articulated clearly to voters, is how achievement of the Republican goal of devolution would make consequences of this tragedy so much worse; beyond more suffering of its victims, it would become a crisis that endangers the very cohesion of our nation.

Devolution is dissolution.  Mitt Romney, by advocating his party's principle of  transfer of power from the United States government to the states, is breaching what he has stated is sacred to him,  a pledge to maintain "one nation indivisible."  While he has stated that he takes the Pledge of Allegiance to be his own personal oath,  his expressed intention to weaken the federal government, to deny it the authority and funding that makes us a nation, is an inherent denial of that Pledge's central affirmation of intrinsic unity.

Whether or not there is a God -- one who is all powerful and all wise who sent this storm, or whether it was caused by natural forces -- how we are able to respond, either as a country unified in spirit and in law or as individual states, will be shaped by the choice we make on Tuesday.  In this respect it is either a repudiation or affirmation of the central thrust of that decision made in Philadelphia in 1789.  The signers knew that their document, this Constitution, was fraught with challenges.  We are now being asked whether it is still worth defending in view of the complex diverse country that we have become.

At the very least, it is worthy of our serious evaluation.




 




1 comment:

Leonardo said...

It must be agonizing for you to speak as an atheist of 'God's message to America'.
First you declare yourself an atheist.
Then you're sure that Sandy "was a message to fulfill the promise he made to our founders".
In the end there's the doubt "Whether or not there is a God ...".

I guess it's mirroring how USA deals with God.
The founders had no message for God at all. They didn't mention him in the constitution. I doubt whether God felt urge to fulfill promises to them.

The words "under God" were inserted in the pledge only more than sixty years after its composition - under suspicious circumstances I'd say.

This attitude reminds me of the priest intimidating the young boys: "you can't be stingy with the Lord, or the Lord will be stingy with you".