by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - September 26, 2005) If it were not for the compassion of my fellow citizens, I would have given in to despair long ago. Yet, time and time again, the true character of the American reveals itself. Hurricane Katrina brought that character again into action; despite FEMA incompetence and the Bush administration, fellow citizens rescued each other, gave shelter to each other, donated food, blankets, clothing, water, and hard cash to relieve the suffering.
Charity, empathy and sympathy, compassionate sacrifice for the unfortunate in the face of hazard, these are angelic traits. Abraham Lincoln would have called these the better angels of our nature, in contrast to the bloody nature of man's other demons: avarice, pride, rage, and vengeance. The question then, what causes the suppression of the angelic character by the dominance of the demonic? What else can one call the bloody murder of war, of homicide, of genocide, except demonic? What else can one call the development of nuclear, biological, or conventional weapons for profit and ideological domination? What other word defines the character of leadership that fails to save drowning people, that brushes aside the death of children in war with words like collateral damage, that steals elections with treasonous methods including lies, fraud, and embezzlement. Surely this type of leadership does not exhibit the American character!
Leadership can cause either an ascendancy of angels or domination by demons. Acquiescence to corrupt leadership can inspire these demons to even more demonic action. Surely Americans deserve the best leadership, leaders who have character, who are above corruption, nepotism, and cronyism.
In contrast to its current leaders, after 9/11, and after successive and worsening hurricanes, earthquakes and floods, Americans have sacrificed for their neighbors, not only in their own country, but for those in others countries as well. Americans take leadership roles in organizations like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and Doctors Without Borders. Americans lead by donating to charitable organizations, and lead by volunteering for those organizations. Some leaders actually roll up their sleeves and pitch in, rather than simply roll up their sleeves for a photo opportunity.
Yet some leaders, by their example, reveal the potential for corruption. Rather than giving aid to those most in need, these leaders give to those least in need. By suspending the Davis-Bacon Act for construction workers in the devastated South, certain American leaders give to Halliburton while taking away from the American workers who need money most. By awarding the reconstruction contract to Halliburton, certain American leaders ensure the bankruptcy of other smaller construction companies in the devastated South who could have rebuilt their own communities. Providing $63.3 billion in aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina may seem benevolent, but how much of that money will actually reach those most in need? Analysts predict that reconstruction costs will reach $300 billion, and warn of a budget disaster.
While oversight committees investigate the corruption that occurred in Florida after Hurricane Frances, where Bush cronies handed out disaster money to those least in need, who will stop the corruption that still continues? What non-partisan character will be exhibited, or will more money be wasted, and more lives ruined?
Millions were given to residents of Miami-Dade for hurricane damages, even though a severe thunderstorm was all that hit the county. Indeed, the investigation by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee found
that $31.2 million of disaster aid was distributed in Miami-Dade County after Hurricane Frances, even though the county's Emergency Operations Center reported that damage and debris from Frances was "minimal." Quality control inspections conducted by FEMA inspectors after disaster aid was distributed found that, out of a random sampling of completed inspections, 37% showed errors on personal property awards, 18.5% showed errors made on determining if the home was unsafe, and 11.5% showed errors on aid that was granted for rental assistance and relocation. (Press Release, 5/9/05, hsgac.gov)
Will American leadership allow billions to vanish in the floodwaters, like the $8 billion that vanished in the Iraqi desert? Are greed and corruption indicative of the American political/corporate character? Will that money be used to rebuild homes and communities, or will politically-connected developers work in collusion with politicians to declare eminent domain, arguing that former river casinos in Mississippi be built on the coast? What compassion motivated that governor's economic recovery plan?
Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that "The force of character is cumulative." In his essay "The American Scholar" he wrote that "character is more important than intellect" noting that
Men such as they are, very naturally seek money or power; and power because it is as good as money, -- the "spoils," so called, "of office." And why not? for they aspire to the highest, and this, in their sleep-walking, they dream is highest. Wake them, and they shall quit the false good, and leap to the true, and leave governments to clerks and desks.
Such "sleepwalking" is too much of late, such money-grubbing threatens to undermine the more charitable nature of the American, as it has already undermined the status and stature of America in other countries. Those who use lies and deception to seek money and power represent the worst character, and represent the worst disaster to have befallen this country. Their lack of leadership is also cumulative, both in lost lives and lost livelihoods. While we may forgive a lack of intellect, we cannot forgive a lack of character; we cannot forgive that character who allows his/her better angel to be dominated by demons.
Allowing such leaders to remain in office would be incompetent and cowardly. Certainly those are character traits all Americans should shun.