Weep For This Country

From Maha:


These can be disheartening times.  Think about it for just a moment; it’s 2008.  When I was a kid I thought we would all be zipping around in our flying cars.  War was supposed to be obsolete, equality should have been the norm, not something we still have to strive for, and poverty was supposed to be something you only read about in history books.

It wasn’t the future I was promised, I’ll admit that much, but it was the future I hoped to grow up in, and it amazes me sometimes to look at the year on the calendar and look around and see that so much has remained the same.

And then I see this.  How unprecedented is this?  Again, imagine this for a moment.  Politics is tough, it’s bruising, and it’s scarring.  Becoming a politician, entering that public arena brings with it the knowledge that you are going to get hit, and you’re going to get hit repeatedly.  We’ve seen in recent years two high profile Democratic candidates, distinguished war veterans, one who left limbs back in Vietnam, ridiculed and dishonored; their heroic records tarnished by doubt and shame thanks to politics.  In my intensive studies of politics I’ve read about a judge who stood up for children’s rights painted as a pedophile, and I’ve read of another politician falsely accused of bugging his opponent’s office.

No, America is no novice in the realm of nasty politics.  But when have you ever seen this?

I don’t ask that everyone support the candidate that I support.  To do so would be itself un-American.  The American way is to make your best arguments and let people decide on their own.  I don’t ask that everyone agree with the candidate that I support for the same reason; I don’t agree with him on every issue.  But I am ashamed to see fellow Americans calling Barack Obama a terrorist, screaming with spittle flecked, red faced hatred that the man should “Go back to Kenya!”  A terrible sickness fills me when voices like sandpaper over gravel rip out through the air the curses of “Obama bin Laden!” just as the corners of my eye stings as I watch a man brandish a Curious George plushie with an Obama bumper sticker wrapped around its head.

Is this our country?

Most assuredly it is.  Most assuredly this is their right, to assemble, to speak freely without fear of retribution.  I can’t deny them that right because that right is protected by the constitution I have spent my entire adult life serving and defending.  Most assuredly, though, it is my right to be ashamed of them, though.

Most assuredly can I assert that this is not patriotism, but instead a warped and twisted doppelganger of that entity, a cruel joke on national pride that is echoed time and time again throughout arch conservative orthodoxy.

The America I grew up in, the America I grew to love and defend thrives on difference, not sameness.  It is, after all, a nation of immigrants, founded by immigrants, built by immigrants, and perpetually strengthened by the blood and toil of immigrants.  The American story is not hardened in stone, the same plot and the same characters repeated over and over again, but is instead a changling, amorphous, and forever renewed with intricate twists and detailed.  The American story is one of the boy who grows up on the farm, works the farm, takes over the farm, and then passes the farm to his son, but it is also the story of the girl who grows up in Harlem, walks every day to school through the junkies and the gang territories, studies hard and shuns temptation, earns her way into college, and goes on to change the world with the brilliance of her mind and the resolve of her work ethic.  It’s the story of the kid who doesn’t leave California until he’s an adult, joining the military, and seeing the world, just as it’s the story of the kid who travels the world as a kid only to return to America as a leader.

This is the America I know and love; an imperfect union that has forever and will forever carry with it that one caveat: WORK IN PROGRESS.

And as a work in progress, we must strive to not just love the light patches of history, but we must also remember the dark chapters.  For how do we as a nation continue this work in progress if we stamp our feet and zealously refuse to see those aspects of ourselves that need work?  We must remember the peculiar institution, and the reservations, Japanese internment and McCarthyism.

Are you now, or have you ever…

This specter haunts our national consciousness; the fear of the other taken to frightening proportions, the Salem Witch Trials replayed on the floor of the Senate by Senator Joe McCarthy.  “Are you now, or have you ever been…”  What, exactly, doesn’t matter.  What matters only is that it is of the “other,” of the un-American, a bizarre concept because there is actually very little within these borders that is actually un-American.

In Salem, the other was witchcraft.  In Joe McCarthy’s America, it was communism.  Today, the “other” is liberalism.  But it’s more.  Today the “other” is blackness, it is non-Christian-ness, it is non-whiteness.  Today, the “other” is anything that threatens the role of Republican rule.  It is terrifying to watch Michele Bachman demand that Anti-Americanism be investigated in the halls of congress, her plastered smile and flashing eyes belying no sense of irony, no sense of understanding, what true Americanism is.

And that sentiment is reflected on the pavement.  Crowds of people wearing McCain Palin paraphernalia transformed into the mob, their picket signs the modern torches and pitchforks, all of them at the ready to storm the castle and destroy the monster.

Because there is the “us” and then there is the “other.”

I have never seen a presidential candidate called a terrorist.  I’ve never seen a presidential candidate called a traitor.  Even John Kerry who was so trod upon was not treated thus.  He was called bad for America, his integrity was challenged, and he was, through subtle implication, hinted at as one of the “other”, but he was never declared an enemy of the state.

Barack Obama is, and by proxy every one of us who supports him, who believes he should be the next president of the United States, is also.

And so, yes, I weep for this country.  I weep for a hero who has fallen and allowed this to become his final legacy.  I weep for those who cower behind false patriotism, espousing the virtues of this country without recognizing what makes it great.  I weep for those who are maligned and demonized for doing nothing more than loving their country by disagreeing with the “same”.  I weep for us all because this future we live in now is such a far cry from the future I thought we would live in.

I watch all of this with sadness.  And then I watch the leaders of the movement, I watch the Vice Presidential Candidate, a woman who, at the age when I was waking up every morning at five onboard an Aircraft Carrier, was competing in beauty pageants and reading the sports on the evening news, call her opponent the friend of terrorists, and challenge the patriotism of everyone who didn’t grow up like her.  I watch the Presidential candidate continue to ask the same questions even though they were answered not because he wants the answers, but because he wants people to think of his opponent as a terrorist.  I watch these people and I ask them the same question that was asked of Joe McCarthy all those years ago in the first glimmering crack in the darkness that preceded it.

Have you no decency?  At long last, have you no decency?

4 Responses to “Weep For This Country”

  1. Kathy says:

    Kyle, what a post. Powerful. Beautifully written. That last line is perfect. Not just because it’s powerful in and of itself, but because it ties what’s happening now to what happened in the past.

    You’ve outdone yourself.

  2. Thank you very very much Kathy.

    You know, I have the feeling that I’m eventually going to have to become a history buff.

  3. Kathy says:

    Yeah, history is profoundly important. I was struck by that when I was reading your post, because of how you were saying all these terrible trends in our public life destroyed your sense of what the future would look like. I think a lot of people feel that way. But the more one learns of what has happened in the past, the more one realizes that that dreamed-of future never was as real as we thought it would be.

    That said, I do think this is among the worst periods in this country’s history. Objectively, things are really, really bad.

  4. DrGail says:

    At the risk of stepping on what is indeed a beautiful and eloquent post, I must say that you just don’t get it.

    The McCain campaign has finally come up with its one-word slogan that encapsulates their entire strategy, and you won’t even give them credit for it.

    They tried to go with “experience”, but the selection of Sarah Palin as VP candidate pretty well blew that one out of the water.

    Then they tried to monopolize on “change”, but that pesky fact that McCain voted 90% of the time with George Bush really put that one to bed.

    The next word was “reform”, but the proliferation of lobbyists running their campaign turned the “Straight Talk Express” into “K Street on Wheels”.

    “Maverick” just never caught hold either, probably because most people already thought that one had been done to death, and the rest of the folks kept wondering if they were the only ones who weren’t exactly sure what the word means.

    But finally, finally, in the waning moments of the campaign, they have finally settled on their one word encapsulation of their case to the American people. This is the one word that the Obama campaign doesn’t better represent, the one word that their supporters thoroughly understand, the one word that communicates so far beyond its immediate letters and simple meaning:


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