This is one of the most polarized times in American history.
The nation has not been this divided politically since the Vietnam War, perhaps since the Civil War. We’ll leave it to historians to sort that out.
As a nation, we just can’t seem to agree on anything.
In the past decade or so Americans have divided themselves into red states and blue states. They have drawn seemingly impenetrable lines along liberal and conservative ideology. And, we have even argued about whether there is such a thing as a “good” Nazi.
Then, along came Harvey.
Harvey is the Category 4 hurricane that battered the Texas coast this weekend. The storm system has dropped several feet of rain on Houston, Texas, creating unprecedented flooding in that city.
By and large, when disaster strikes, Americans forget their political differences. There is something in the DNA of most Americans that compels them to help their countrymen.
A weekend story in the Chicago Tribune talked about volunteers from Illinois mobilizing and preparing to go to Texas to lend assistance. And, if past history is any indication, there were be truckloads of Southern Illinoisans heading south to aid hurricane and flood victims.
Southern Illinois has benefited from the American spirit of camaraderie, the innate desire to offer comfort and assistance during times of need.
Volunteers from throughout the country offered assistance, both physical and material, when the Ohio River inundated large parts of Gallatin County in 2011. Volunteers from around the nation converged on Harrisburg when a tornado ripped through town in 2012.
Likewise, Southern Illinois received help from around the country during the winter flood of 2015-16 in Alexander and Pulaski counties.
It’s what we do. It’s what we should do. These natural disasters remind us of our shared humanity and the fact that no matter where we live we are subject to the overwhelming power of Mother Nature, whether it’s flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes or even wildfires.
“We need citizens to be involved,” said Brock Lang, current Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator. “This is a landmark event (for Texas). We have not seen an event like this.”
Again, we will leave it to the historians to sort out the proportionality of these disasters, but the names are familiar — Katrina, Sandy, Ike.
That history of coming to the aid of afflicted citizens is not without a touch of irony.
Texas senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn voted against the final aid package to Superstorm Sandy victims when the northeastern portion of the country was ravaged in 2012. They argued that funds spent on storm relief had to be offset by corresponding budget cuts.
Thankfully, no one is making that insensitive argument this time around.
Funds should be allocated swiftly to mitigate the suffering created by this massive storm system. Regardless of how swiftly the government acts, it will take the people of Texas months — years — to recover from the devastation, as Southern Illinois victims of violent weather can attest.
As the recovery unfolds and volunteers continue to aid the people of Texas, hopefully Cruz and Cornyn will have an epiphany.
Helping people who have lost family members, lost their homes, family heirlooms and cherished memories has never been a pocketbook consideration in America. It’s about doing the right thing, no matter the financial cost.
That will become apparent locally within the next few days when collection sites for clothing, cleaning supplies and cash donations go up in area churches and businesses. Southern Illinoisans will donate, not caring whether the person gets the aid is white, black, Christian, Muslim, atheist, Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal.
In the end, the labels are unimportant. Goodness has no restrictions.