Shaping History

By Don Rollins

I am a tall, straight, white male. English is my first language. I have three degrees after my name. I have a roof over my head, car in the driveway, money in the bank, food in the pantry and a closet full of clothes.

I enjoy the use of all four limbs. I have health insurance.

I am not upside down with a mortgage. I am not chemically dependent or debilitated by mental illness. I do not have a rap sheet.

Cabbies do not generally pass me by when I hail them. Inventory Loss does not, as a rule, follow me through stores. I am rarely taken aside for additional screening when I fly.

None of my ancestors were lynched, interned or refused entry at a border crossing.

American standards of wealth notwithstanding, I am among the truly privileged of the world. Privilege is the air I breathe, the water in which I swim.

And then there’s Haiti. The latest Haitian crisis is another rent in the veil between marginalized and privileged. Americans like me, we watch in real time as the rank and growing global disparity between have and have-not is, yet again, writ large across our HD flat screens. To our credit, we’re sending big-time money to that beleaguered island. Even the rabid free-marketers. So far.

Now, the beauty part, to borrow from Ross Perot, is that the crusading hands-off capitalists who see in every helping hand the grand design of a socialist takeover can indeed be seen beating the bushes for federal aid for Haiti. Swell. But where were these cats when FEMA was shipping platitudes and toxic house trailers to Hurricane Katrina survivors? Even now, they’re fussing over the finer points of health care while inner city hospital ERs and free clinics remain stacked to the ceiling with poor folks who have nowhere else to turn when they or their kids get sick. And these are the folks Haitians are counting on for the long run?

Somewhere between the rebuilding of postwar Japan and now, it got easier to wage war on chaotic, troubled governments than do the gritty, practical work of putting them back on their feet. (Especially if they don’t like us.) Somewhere between the Marshall Plan and Afghanistan, we ceased electing true statesmen and stateswomen. We began seeing Communism through the solitary lens of domino theory. We put forth a half-baked Middle East policy. And we stopped making Old School Republicans (like Everett Dirksen, Margaret Chase Smith and Bob La Follette) and hard-boiled, pragmatic Democrats (like Hubert Humphrey, Leonor Sullivan and Mike Mansfield) who weren’t afraid to take some calculated risks with international policy.

Enter the privileged.

These days, when large-scale disasters strike – natural or otherwise – some governments take some measures. Often as not, finger-in-the-dike measures that leave the private sector to play an all-to-influential role in deciding which staggered nations get ongoing aid and which are left to circumstance. Money slows to a trickle. Time moves on.

If history holds, Haiti will be the international cause du jour; an already war-burdened government will decide to pull up stakes and move on; and Haiti will again become one of those places over which we wring our hands and wish the religious missionaries luck. Sadly, and to a degree only warmongers and isolationists want, it may be up to the world’s privileged to keep Haiti’s recovery afloat. This, in a place we barely know and rarely think about.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 15, 2010

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