Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Cut the shit
I grew up about a half a mile outside Philadelphia, where the United States of America was born a short 232-plus years ago. This fact doesn't make me taller or my opinions any more important than those of someone born in Tempe or Wichita or Dallas. (Well, maybe Dallas.) What my childhood there did do, among other things, was provide me with endless elementary-school field trips to a wide range of historically significant sites: The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross's house, et cetera and on and on. I went to these places under school supervision so many times that the occasional jaunt west into Amish country seemed like a breath of fresh air (though what we really smelled was manure). My ad-nauseum indoctrination into colonial American history seemed to have left little mark on me and my proudly inherited liberal politics until this decade, when everything that anyone believed this country was about got shat upon and spat upon by Bush and his craven allies. Even at its birth this country was not as clean as I was taught—many of our founding fathers owned slaves, the end—but the set of Western freedoms we loosely sum up as "democracy," in tandem with the superpower status held here throughout my lifetime to this point, felt more and more vital to me as they were squelched and distended ever further by the worst administration we've ever had. (And even at that, how many countries can say their worst-ever leader voluntarily surrendered power after eight years? Even when we suck, we kind of rule.)
Where'm I going with this? I apologize for rambling, I haven't written in this space for a while and today was jarringly emotional. Like many caucasians, when the TV cameras at the inauguration paused on the face of a middle-aged or older African-American crying, or saluting, I let myself believe I could possibly grasp 1% of 1% of that struggle.
I think I'm a fucking patriot, is what I'm saying. Check with me on this in four years (or less), but I also think Barack Obama is the best person we've elected president in my lifetime (I was almost two when Dick Nixon won in ’68.) But Obama isn't the problem; we are. As Mark Slouka's "Notebook" essay in the February issue of Harper's (worth the cover price) all-too-convincingly asserts, we have become a people so in love with our own ignorance that we perhaps shouldn't be trusted with this freedom anymore—at least not the freedom to vote. "Anti-intellectualism in America is a very old hat," Slouka writes, citing terrifying (if stray) anecdotes before reminding us that nearly half of those who voted in the last presidential election did so willingly for Sarah Palin (hide the kids) and that other guy. Also, 71% of Americans believe in angels. Linger on that one a bit.
And what about the rabid Obama supporters? "The fact that so many have convinced themselves that one man, thus far almost entirely untested, will slay the culture of corruption with one hand while pulling us out of the greatest mess we've known in a century with the other suggests that a certain kind of 'clap your hands if you believe' naiveté crosses the aisle at will." Then Slouka reminds us that in this pitched, so-important-that-everyone-in-the-world-was-watching election, 83 million Americans "didn't move, didn't vote." Some of them have just plain given up on politics, he admits, and who could blame them? (Well, ultimately, I could, and so could he.) The rest—and it's no small number—are dumber than a box of dirt, and they'd probably beat me to death to stay that way.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage a little more than 50 years ago; what do you think the chances are that we'll see Bush & Co.—whose crimes stretch over the entirety of this decade and cost thousands of American lives (tens or hundreds of thousands of brown-skinned ones)—even brought to trial? The smartest among us wince and know that just to suggest it would be seen as anti-American. It's enough to make a guy wanna pull the wings off an angel (then dry them, crush them and maybe snort them).
I didn't even get around to how the most important things, like um, the election of a president, are seen in terms of sports now. Just listen to the anchors, look at the us vs. them mentality that defines us. And did you hear the "na na na na, hey hey hey, good-bye" cheers when Bush emerged this morning? If I can't see him imprisoned then i guess seeing him ridiculed is…no, no way is it good enough. Clearly I need to start going to rock shows in earnest again, and do little else. Stand by. Or sit, or whatever.