Dearborn’s Civil Society Has Storm Clouds

Panic, fear, anxiety – relief? The reactions from everyday persons in Dearborn to the last few weeks are rumblings from the storm clouds above American civil society. Our little slice of solace is turning into the focal point for this nation’s troubles.

Two years ago, a third of Dearborn residents voted for Donald Trump. The man who wanted a “Muslim Ban,” the man who could shoot people on 5th Avenue and not lose a vote, the man who isn’t afraid to “grab em’ by the pussy.” And while some may say that they voted in spite of these comments, the harder truth is that some voted for him because of those statements.

At the same time, in the same city, many Arab Americans agonized over whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein. Was Hillary Clinton too much of a right-winger? Would voting for Jill just help Donald Trump? Questions about moral responsibility – “if I vote for Hillary and she drone bombs a middle eastern country, am I responsible?” abounded within social media discussions. There was a general sense among many that they could safely vote for Jill Stein, that Hillary would inevitably win and they would thus remain free of the moral stain of any actions Hillary took that they might disagree with. Now, many are dealing with guilt and questions about their own choices.

Likewise, in another slice of Dearborn, the liberal, relatively affluent white section, the choice was black and white. Donald Trump would be a disaster and it was inconceivable to make any choice other than Hillary Clinton. There was no real sense of urgency, no great activism, because it was obvious, inevitable that Donald Trump would lose.

The one thing all of us shared is a complete lack of awareness in what the other two thirds of Dearborn was up to. Today, the civil society in America is fractured. The media we consume is a reflection of our own desire to be propagandized, to be reassured, to find justification for who we are and what we believe. It is hardly about being informed or making tough choices.

That’s how, on Dearborn’s vibrant social media groups, we have such a gamut of reactions to the various crises of the last few weeks. From the Muslim ban to children in cages to the retirement of Justice Kennedy, people are divided and not listening to each other. The style of argumentation is about proving the superiority of our own beliefs and not about listening or having a genuine conversation. Just think: how many times have you seen a person change their opinion during a discussion on social media?

What we’re missing is compassion. Compassion: the state of a person who reaches out beyond themselves, who considers the consequence of actions to others, who imagines themselves in another person’s shoes. Without compassion, without genuinely considering the thoughts and feelings of others, we’re not going to be able to overcome this time in our history.

If we can’t consider the consequences of our own political choices to our neighbors, if the thinking behind our actions continues to be only how we impact ourselves, rather than how it impacts our society – then these storm clouds will  grow to a hurricane. We need to build a greater awareness of our neighbors because too often persons of different racial groups and political ideologies have no awareness and no contact with each other in our city. Without meaningful change, Dearborn may be the first city torn apart under the turbulence of our time.

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