Grief, Strife Water American Roots

America divides as the democratic republic faces its bloody history and politics, and people become more polarized.

By Monica Mitrovic
Copy Editor/Editorial Proofreader

Photo Illustration by Eriana Ruiz

America’s patch-work quilt of unity is fraying, and has slowly unraveled for over a hundred years.

Freedom. Democracy. The Constitution. A melting pot of diversity. Opportunity. Some people argue these are all the things that allow America to prosper, and to an extent this is true. But the pillars of America’s foundation have been left susceptible to rot due to a festering infection of avarice, ignorance and indifference.

There’s no doubt Americans enjoy certain privileges the citizens of other countries do not have, but, that doesn’t mean anything if we don’t acknowledge how we came to enjoy those privileges.

Our freedom to chase the American Dream didn’t come freely. It came at the cost of countless lives, and I’m not just referring to military personnel.

HISTORY

“The original sin of this country is that we, invaders, shot and murdered our way across the land killing every Native American we could, and making treaties with the rest,” Lawrence O’Donnell said during a segment about the Dakota Access Pipeline on his MSNBC show, “The Last Word.” He said, “This country was founded on genocide before the word genocide was invented, before there was a war crimes tribunal in The Hague.”

The land Americans claimed ownership of was not truly theirs or their forefathers’ to begin with. It was Native Americans’ land first.

Christopher Columbus was not the first person to discover the Americas. On his journey for a new trade route, Columbus happened upon the Caribbean, according to CNN.

Columbus is controversial for many reasons, but especially so because of the use of violence and slavery and the forced conversion of native peoples to Christianity, according to history.com. “In an era in which the international slave trade was starting to grow, Columbus and his men enslaved many native inhabitants of the West Indies and subjected them to extreme violence and brutality,” according to history.com.

Columbus set the standards of European and native peoples’ interactions, marring future interactions and enabling savage behavior toward Native Americans, and any minority that would follow them as the “other” in white history. This paved the way for the eventual substandard treatment of nonwhite Americans, which continues to this day despite attempts by some to mend worn racial ties.

JUSTICE SYSTEM REFORM

In 2015, President Barack Obama spoke out against the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic youth being jailed for nonviolent drug offenses at the annual NAACP convention. He said, “By just about every measure, the life chances for black and Hispanic youth still lag far behind those of their white peers.” He attributed this to hundreds of years of slavery and structural inequalities. To overcome these hurdles, he said, reform needs to start in the community, courtroom and cellblock.

The legal system has surely disappointed countless people, agitating dissatisfied U.S. citizens, spreading despair among families and disrupting their daily lives and faith in the criminal justice system.

However, the situation may not seem as bleak as in the late 20th century. According to the Population Reference Bureau, a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics states the incarceration rate in the U.S. has slightly tapered for all prisoners since 2007, and the 2010 prison population saw a decline of 0.3 percent for the first time since 1972.

But there are still vast improvements to be made.

“DEMOCRACY DIES IN DARKNESS”

Many people could argue there needs to be improvements to our government, such as its leadership. Worries that basic rights afforded to Americans by the Constitution, such as the freedom of speech and religion, have risen following some of President Donald Trump’s remarks.

Bob Little, a Brookhaven College government professor, said Trump has alienated Iran, North Korea and China more than past presidents, scared the Japanese and reduced U.S. credibility abroad. Little said: “American trust has been our key ingredient to our special status in the world. America’s word has always been golden. If the president said it, you could believe it.”

And people don’t find the current president credible, if investigations into his questionable actions aren’t telling enough.

According to The Washington Post, The Brookings Institution released a 108-page report on whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. Norman Eisen, Barry Berke and Noah Bookbinder, part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, wrote: “Demanding the loyalty of an individual involved in an investigation, requesting that individual’s help to end the investigation, and then ultimately firing that person to accomplish that goal are the type of acts that have frequently resulted in obstruction convictions, as we detail.”

EFFECT ON CITIZENS

Stephen Link, a psychology professor and professional counselor, said, “We’re a mess with all the stressors going on in our country right now.” He said people are overstimulated with information from social media and news media, increasing stress levels, which affect peoples’ physical and mental health. People eat too much or too little and don’t get enough sleep, which breaks down the immune system, eventually increasing anxiety levels.

Link said our brains want to keep things balanced, but every time something happens, our stress levels increase.

It’s hard to maintain a calm when people are constantly worried about looming threats, but Americans have survived during the simmering explosion of discontentment. And if there’s one thing we can do, it’s adapt and thrive during a crisis.

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