"The Great State of…."

Michael Kagan
How many times have we heard politicians use that term to refer to a particular U.S. state? It seems to be a required prefix, showing respect for the state’s heritage, culture, importance, and values. It’s similar to a member of Congress from one political party referring to a member of the other party as "my esteemed colleague", or "my friend from across the aisle".

But does any state really deserve to be called "great" automatically? Aren’t there standards to determine "greatness"? Shouldn’t there be criteria that must be met? If a state does not measure up to certain accepted or expected norms, shouldn’t we refrain from calling it "great"?

These questions take on new relevance now that Mississippi has elected Cindy Hyde-Smith as its senator. Before this election, Mississippi was pretty un-great, being rated in the bottom five of the 50 states in many areas, including education, economic success and well-being of its citizens, racial justice, health care, etc. Almost any standard one applied to the state showed it to be a failure, about as bad as many Third World countries.

This is nothing new; the Magnolia State has always been an awful place since it was settled by white people. Back in the 1960’s, the folksinger Phil Ochs sang, "Here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of. Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!" He lamented the nameless bodies lurking under its muddy rivers; every classroom as "a factory of despair"; justice being a stranger, and the trial being short, when the accused is black; criminals posing as the mayors of the towns; the speeches of the governor being "the ravings of a clown"; and wondering in which god the church-goers trust.

What has changed for "the good people of the great state of Mississippi"? Not much when one considers that they chose a racist fool to represent them in the US Senate. When even Walmart, not known by anyone to be liberal in any way, asks for the return of its donation to her campaign due to her crazy statements, one really has to wonder who could support her. The voters of that godforsaken state preferred that evil tool of right-wing racism and oppression over a black man. Or at least the voters who weren’t purged from the rolls of eligibility wanted her.

This is a sick state of affairs. Mississippi is a sick state. And yet it’s only one example of the sickness in the entire United States. We have lawmakers, so-called "leaders", who act not in the best interests of their citizens but of their party. They choose not to pursue positive policies but to perpetuate their power, to enshrine their greed, to increase inequality and injustice, to deny that human activity has anything to do with climate chaos because it might jeopardize the profits of their sponsors and benefactors.

What will it take to turn people around to see that "liberty and justice for all" is not just some meaningless phrase we learned in elementary school? (Do they even recite that idolatrous prayer, the "Pledge of Allegiance", in schools anymore?) When will our "representatives" actually represent us, and not pledge their allegiance to the highest bidder? They pretend to exhort the value and importance of democracy in other countries while denying and preventing and undermining it here.

Come on, people. Wake up!