Thursday, July 12, 2018

I Miss the America I Thought I Knew

As we get older and read more history, we learn that the story of the United States which we learned in school was, let us say, whitewashed.  The genocide of the original inhabitants, the appalling blot of slavery and the later development of Jim Crow, the hatred of almost every immigrant group which ever tried to come here (starting with the Germans who helped us win the Revolutionary War) - we learn all these things later. Yes, we passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, yes, we refused the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, yes, we incarcerated thousands of Japanese Americans because they looked like the people who had attacked us; but we also accepted many other immigrants (including, by the way, my mother), and more recently accepted refugees from natural disasters and wars.  And I don't even include the fact that until the mid-20th century, women were legally inferior to men and couldn't vote or in some places even own property.

I was born after the second World War, and as I became an adolescent, the Civil Rights movement was going on; later, the feminist movement began and flourished, President Reagan allowed amnesty to the undocumented immigrants here at the time.  I've been troubled recently by the police wars on people of color, but I allowed myself to hope that over time we were becoming more civil to each other and more open to the world.

And no matter what Americans did historically , the language of the Declaration of Independence blazes across history like a torch:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Yes, I know the man who wrote that was a slave owner, who carried on an affair with one of his chattels, and that when he said "men" he meant property-owning white males.  I know that isn't what he meant.  But it's what he said.  And somehow over the intervening centuries, people of color have gained the vote, women have gained the vote, it became less socially acceptable to use certain words and do certain things, and even people who prefer to love others of the same sex have moved toward acceptance. I allowed myself to hope that we were moving closer to what Jefferson said, and might actually become the beacon of freedom he wrote about.

Since the 2016 presidential election that hope has died.  The 45th president has enabled and encouraged every form of bigoted, abusive behavior by his largely white, Christian supporters against everyone else.  We've reverted to a world in which people of color are publicly insulted and assaulted by white citizens, where women and people of non-standard sexual preference can be publicly attacked, where immigrants are regarded and attacked as evil animals.  We briefly separated children from their parents at the border, who came here for no worse reason than that they were fleeing danger in their own poorly governed countries.  We are at odds with our former allies.  We have begun a trade war, which could easily throw the entire world into another great depression - tariffs were what caused the first one.  And on top of all this, his people are systematically destroying all the protections against dishonest, rapacious, polluting big business which the country has built up over the last hundred years.

We elected a stupid, self-centered, ignorant and dishonest man, who is convinced that his "gut" is always correct and he doesn't need advice.  If this goes on much longer he will destroy us. He already thinks he'd like to be "president for life,"  which God forbid.  And Congress, which the founders meant to be a check on the president, licks his boots and does whatever he wants.  I didn't vote for him.  I will never vote for anyone who supports him.  But unless everyone who thinks like me rises up and votes to turn over control of Congress in the fall, we'll be stuck with him for 4 or possibly even 8 years.  By which time the America we thought we knew will be dead.

Is that what we want?  If it isn't, we'd better act.