National Brotherhood Week


2014-10-14 – Over the last couple days I’ve been involved in a Facebook discussion about voter ID laws and other efforts to suppress the vote in the United States. One of the commenters (Rau, that’s you) asked an important question, which I paraphrase:

If Republicans are going to all the effort of enacting these laws, what policy objectives do they have in mind that are blocked by having Democrats in government?

My response was this: “You are assuming that all this is driven by policy differences. While there certainly are policy differences, a significant aspect of this is the desire of one defined group to exclude another defined group. The exclusion seems to be more important than any policy objective.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, triggered by the vitriol over Obamacare. After all, the core principles of Obamacare were originally proposed by Republicans (as an alternative to a single-payer plan). Mitt Romney presided over the installation of a nearly identical plan in Massachusetts when he was governor, yet he and his party were hysterically against it when he ran for president in 2012. Why?

Because the other team proposed it.

That’s the only thing I can conclude. If you’re for it, I’m against it. We laugh about tribalism in far away countries, but this is tribalism right here in the US of A.

Then a song popped into my head. It was a song I first heard in the 1906s, written and performed by Tom Lehrer called “National Brotherhood Week.” Check it out on YouTube (the lyrics appear below). You’d probably call this song satire, but is truth.

It talks about all the groups of people in the world who hate each other. You can barely tell that the song was written 50 years ago.

Hate is remarkably stable. The issues change. The hate remains.

In one sense, this is reassuring. We’ve survived it.

In another sense, it is frightening. Not all of us have survived it.

Here’s the song:

Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
And the black folks hate the white folks.
To hate all but the right folks
Is an old established rule.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
Lena Horne and Sheriff Clarke are dancing cheek to cheek.
It’s fun to eulogize
The people you despise,
As long as you don’t let ’em in your school.

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It’s American as apple pie.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
New Yorkers love the Puerto Ricans ’cause it’s very chic.

Step up and shake the hand
Of someone you can’t stand.
You can tolerate him if you try.

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
It’s National Everyone-smile-at-one-another-hood Week.
Be nice to people who
Are inferior to you.
It’s only for a week, so have no fear.
Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year! 

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