Vol. 11    No. 2
JANUARY 21, 2016
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                                                       Good and Evil
As I wrote the second part of the story on Angela Russell and CUNA Mutual, I couldn’t help but reflect on the maxim that as human beings, we
are capable of both good and evil. And it is how we forge our institutions — be they religious, economic, political or social — that influences us
in our every day behavior unless we have educated ourselves to know the impact of these influences and have learned to resist them.

As an extreme example, Hitler and the Nazis promoted the concept of the Aryan supremacy and imbued it into the institutions of Germany. And
this evil resulted in the Jewish Holocaust. Or the powers that be in the Americas imbued Christianity with the ideology that Africans were not
human. And so, this allowed Euro-Americans to continue the horror of slavery for several hundred years. This evil took millions of lives and
psychologically, socially and economically destroyed millions more.

And so, I can’t help but dread the evil that the current presidential campaign will dredge up as several of its candidates — mostly Republican
candidates — vilify segments of the United States population in order to attain political power. Whether it is Syrian refugees or undocumented
workers from around the world, this vilification of people and making them an “other” can’t help lead to violence, death and oppression, if not
by official U.S. policy, then by the actions of individuals who are “empowered” by such rhetoric. These people seek to gain the world by losing
their souls. It is my hope that our country will not give them the world during this election cycle.

It is our institutions that can bring out the good and evil within us, that can make us a part of something or make us isolated from each other.
Take voting rights, for instance. Currently felons — incarcerated or on paper, probation or parole — cannot vote in elections. Now these
individuals have — or are in the process of — paid their debt to society and are in the process, we hope, of reintegrating into society. Hopefully,
they have been able to secure a job and pay rent and therefore pay taxes to the state and federal government. Hopefully, they have been able to
find a way to become contributing members of society in the face of numerous obstacles.

But even though they are paying taxes, the state says that they cannot vote and help decide who our leaders are. In essence, it is taxation
without representation.

And clearly, it sends the message that they will never really be a part of society again, that they will never be fully participating members of
society, that their lives cannot return to a state of normalcy like those of the people around them. The state institutions send the message to the
felons — influences them — that they are nothing, if not no good. It is a negative message — bringing out the worst in them — unless they have
the fortitude to resist the message and forge new lives for themselves and have become involved with other institutions or organizations that
countermand the message of the state.

In my opinion — I know there are some, perhaps many, who would disagree — that the institutions of television and the media coupled with
fanatical interpretation of the U.S. Constitution to mean that the rights of guns are supreme, even over those of individuals for life and rugged
individualism have contributed to the spate of mass murders over the past several years. There is a vein of narcissistic individualism in some
people that allows them to senselessly and without provocation gun down innocent people in order to find fame or in the name of a cause. And
they have found encouragement in the institutions of society for such behavior, from the violent mass killing video games to the worship of
guns of mass destruction. We are paying the price for developing such institutions that bring out the worst in people.

And I can’t help but feel that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized the same thing, that he understood the impact of war and violence on society.
Outside of Dr. King’s historic significance as a civil rights leader who also symbolized the spirit of the civil rights movement, it is his writings
about humanity, about us as people, that have the most lasting impact on society, if we will only listen.

Our society and institutions can influence us to be better people and to have a better quality of life or they can be ruthless and inspire us to
cheat and do in other people. And I am distressed by — but hardly giving into — the institutions of hatred and greed that surround us. I will listen
to the voices of good like Dr. King’s.

And speaking of Dr. King, I can’t help but wonder what he would think about what has been going on in the state of Wisconsin over the past six
years. I know that he wouldn’t stand for the restrictions that have been put in place to discourage people from voting. After all, he and others
fought the poll tax, literacy tests and other barriers that existed in the South.

And I know that Dr. King would not stand for the weakening of unions and the destruction of the civil service system that protected state
government from cronyism. After all, Dr. King was in Memphis supporting striking garbage workers when he was assassinated back in 1968.

And I can’t help but think that Dr. King would not stand for the disenrolling of poor — disproportionately people of color — people from Badger
Care and refusing Medicaid dollars from the federal government. The health of all Americans was paramount to Dr. King.

And so, when I was covering the King Holiday Tribute & Ceremony at the State Capitol to honor Dr. King’s legacy, I can’t help but wonder what
Governor Scott Walker was thinking up there on the podium. Was he thinking about his sitting up there as the ultimate political victory in his
efforts to discourage people from voting, reducing the number of people covered by health insurance and destroying Wisconsin’s civil service
system and eliminating the effectiveness of unions? Does he think about the irony of him sitting up there during a tribute to Dr. King while he
institutes policies that are anathema to Dr. King’s legacy?

I hope someday, Dr. King’s legacy will soften Governor Walker’s heart and understand the impact of his policies on poor people and people of
color, the vulnerable people whom Dr. King championed. I can only hope.