As always, these are the best of times and the worst of times.
We, the “we the people” we, are at the top of the rollercoaster. The clicking of the climb is over, and our stomachs are clinching in anticipation of the drop. We are looking at the ground far below and thinking that perhaps we made a poor choice. Despite the safety-harness testing, our very status as Americans, suddenly the set-up seems insufficient to keep us safe. At this moment, at this precipice, we suddenly remember that we are, most of us, only a generation or two or three removed from poverty and despair. We suddenly remember that anyone can fall.
Children, removed from their parents, are being housed in Arpaio-style tent city jails.
“This is not who we are.” Yet, it is. Over and over again. Perhaps people should be saying, “this is not who I want to see reflected in the mirror of the media.” Not as pithy.
We have been here before, and we, the unaffected, have gone about the business of living, working, and consuming with no cataclysmic upheaval in our lives. The history is not even distant: Japanese internment camps, First-Nation children shipped off to re-education schools, American torture programs, the water poisoning of entire communities, the militarization of police forces stymied with systematic racism, the imprisonment of minorities turned into a for-profit enterprise, life and death sentences based on the possession of an insurance card … It is a long list, and it spans every presidency.
“This is not who I was raised to believe I am.” Still not pithy. It doesn’t reaffirm the American exceptionalism I was raised with.
Religion may have faded out of my family, but even as my rosary disappeared into a drawer, my indoctrination into the cult of America continued. Perhaps my upbringing with a conservative father in a military community is a more extreme example of this, but I have seen patriotism become a religion outside of the posts and bases as well.
The lens through which I was trained to see the world was center-focused on Freedom (capital f intentional) as a uniquely American commodity. We had it and no one else did. We were the lighthouse of morality in an immoral world. Our allies, they were lesser versions of ourselves, and our enemies, they were the evil empires bound by the rules of plot structure to fall.
I spent enough time outside of America to see the cracks in this facade, but perhaps not enough to look inward and see my own complicity in the system I have become a part of.
When I was younger, the problems of the world were problems I had unjustly inherited. Now, in my forties with adult children, I still sit still. I feel powerless to stop the regression of society and sick in my slow realization of all the progress that never really happened at all. There have been letters, calls, emails, marches, protests, and a steady accretion of “I Voted!” stickers in my life, but still, no clear path to change.
Perhaps someone reading this has a solution for me. If it is a simple one, don’t bother sending it. I stopped buying those years ago.