The recent special Senate election in Alabama marked a culmination of several push and pull factors traversing our political arena. Over the past several months, this country has seen Confederate monuments removed from parks and cities. We have seen football players kneeling during the National Anthem. Sadly, mass shootings still pervade the U.S. landscape and most recently we have seen a slew of sexual harassment charges directed against prominent and powerful people. This has led to resignations, firings and aborted election runs. Identity is a powerful concept, and I think each of these incidents reflects deep societal challenges.
“Push and pull” has often been used to describe the immigration problem in the United States. There may be as many as 13 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The Department of Justice has responded by attempting to hire 300 more immigration judges to deal with the vast caseloads of people already in detention centers which stretch from nearby Lumpkin to San Francisco.
“Push” factors mean basic reasons why people want to leave a country, and usually this translates into lack of jobs, political instability and family who have already left. “Pull” factors mean opportunity – in simple terms, jobs and a better future.
People are willing to travel thousands of miles and encounter numerous risks just for the chance, with no guarantee, of a better future in the United States. Yet, the political crevices in the United States are deep and increased immigration controls clearly make this a daunting task.
Another pull factor for the United States is our political system and its ability to function even during chaotic conditions. The special Alabama Senate election pitted two diametrically different political candidates. It raised several key questions about ethics, identity and accountability. Red or blue, strong, safe congressional seats rarely change, and that is what made the election so unusual. The election garnered national attention and demonstrated that no seat is truly safe, especially if it appears that key moral and social concerns are not perceived as adequately addressed.
Yet how do all of these political events shape who we are?
Recently I visited a veterans’ hospital in Los Angeles. It was a sprawling complex with several underground passageways. It was designed this way in anticipation of a Japanese attack during World War II. It looked like a college campus except that there just were not many people walking outside on the hospital grounds. I visited one of the housing units. Each veteran’s name and military unit was neatly typed, placed at the hospital room doors. I saw signs clearly identifying veterans who served in the Army and the Air Force. In the hospice unit I saw how the veterans upon passing were wrapped in an American flag as a final honor.
Who we are can be a veteran of the Korean war or someone who recently immigrated to the United States. It could be someone running for office or a voter seeking to demand ethical accountability from elected officials. It could be someone who has the courage to stand up against someone who abused them and it could be someone who paid the ultimate sacrifice in a past military campaign.
In 1960, prominent political scientist Seymour Lipset revealed a term called the American Creed which stated that American society is comprised of several factors including individualism, self-governance, liberty, diversity and unity, all of which can be considered pull factors for why people have come to the United States.
Not every factor will resonate with everyone; it depends. And that’s just it: Who we are really depends on where we are and how we respond to issues that impact not only ourselves but society in general.
Fred Gordon is chair of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Public Administration at Columbus State University; email@example.com.