I’ve hated that phrase since the 1960s when people who despised our demonstrations for civil rights or against the Vietnam war hurled the words at us if they were bricks.

Not so sure what I think about love it or leave it these days. I’m not even sure I like our country anymore, so maybe it really is time to pack up and get out. The work I do can be done from anywhere there’s an internet connection. And there are Internet connections in countries that more closely resemble my democratic socialist and non-violent beliefs.

Why now? Honestly, I’m finding it harder and harder to breathe when I open a newspaper and read a synopsis of what I’ll call the TORTURE REPORT, a non-partisan summation of five, count ’em, five years of study that concludes we did indeed torture people. And also concluded that little or no useful intelligence was actually gathered. Okay. We tortured. And while the very idea is horribly disgusting, I also understand we’re not the only country to use Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (a very benign and misleading use of language). And we won’t be the last. But to then have government officials who were, at one time, vocal in their opposition to torture (e.g. the present Director of the CIA and the fucking President himself) dance around the report’s conclusion of its usefulness by repeating over and over that “it’s unknowable” appalls me. Hell, my government was more honest in the mid-70s when it disclosed the findings and transcripts of the Pike and Church CIA congressional hearings.

Actually, this blind eye toward torture isn’t new. My government wrote a constitution that spells out the notion that Black men (they didn’t even bother with women of any color) were worth three-fifths of a White. So for generation after generation we encouraged and welcomed slavery. (Just another torture form). And please don’t think this was only a North versus South issue. Vast fortunes were made in New England through the slave trade.

We can go back farther if need be. We blood-let Native Americans for the simple reason we wanted their country. Again, I get it. We weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last to steal other peoples’ land and homes. But a nation born from blood and continues that tradition through to the present, simply can not pretend that its hands are clean and claim, ”it’s unknowable.”

But the pull toward leaving isn’t solely based on our bloody history. It isn’t even based upon our current belligerent cop of the world posture and actions. It has as much to do with the attitudes and behaviors we’ve been acting on since ketchup became a vegetable.

Without romanticizing the 1960s when I first cut my ethical and political values, there were, at least, politicians who actually attempted to right wrongs. Not many, but many more than now. Even Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren voted to fully fund the Israeli military despite their very clear knowledge the funding was going to an apartheid state. What we got now is nothing and damn near nobody.

I sense a seismic shift of the underpinnings in even the great stuff my country has done. There was a time (though not without its own set of politics) when we had pride about being a country where people, not counting people of color, could actually have a chance to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” We no longer have bootstraps. We have part-time employees without living wages or benefits. Now, we want to pitch kids back to countries where death might be the kindest thing to occur. We once were proud of our roads, bridges and, at the time, perhaps the greatest infrastructure in the world. Now, that great infrastructure is crumbling and rather than address it, we give tax breaks to those who need it the least and carte blanch to corporate theft. Is it a surprise that almost 50% of our people don’t vote? Why bother? Both political parties are about feeding the rich. Thirty-three states have laws against people sleeping outdoors but don’t fund anywhere near enough shelters to house them. This is what we’ve become and I believe that those who don’t bother to vote have a gut level understanding of that. My government isn’t about them—or about me.

The cruel joke of it all is how many things I love about living here. Our arts, our literature, our music all speak to me in ways no other culture’s could. The caring and giving between people who might even be strangers. The often spontaneous celebrations or even protests that bond us, if only temporarily. The ability—if one chooses—to meet with people (whatever their politics) who, while different than me, still infuse my life with learning and growth. And of course there’s sports.

Would it be easier to be a stranger in a strange land than to be an outlier in my own? I guess I’d need to leave to find out. But let’s face it, I’m not going anywhere. Some very obvious reasons: family and friends. Not so obvious or even understandable to myself is the irrational never-ending hope that somehow, in some way, we still have time to change. That it’s potentially possible to become a land of sanity and community rather than warheads, drones, and prisons. That our culture might find its way out of our racist, economic, and military fog and into, at least, some light.

But the way I feel right now, I ain’t betting rent. Although:

It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday. ~ John Guare

18 thoughts on “LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT

  1. Well said. I’ve long thought that the balloon of the US empire began to deflate at a fast rate after 9/11, and President Bush’s reaction. What we needed was a president who would have thrown us the red meat we needed to vent our rage and frustration, but reigned in our tendency to overreaction. Not what we got. On top of this is the fact that we’ve allowed the injustices of the past to linger too long and now our economy has left behind poor and even middle class folks. In this environment, pointing out racial structural problems actually hurts democrats. After all, many poor folks are white, and a poor white family not able to earn enough money doesn’t want to hear about how lucky they are to be white. So we have a disconnect between the blue city and town I live in, and a majority of states that voted in more conservative governors.

    On the positive side, my kids have taught me that this coming generation is more tolerant and welcoming, and generally better, than our generation is/has been. I only hope that we don’t mess things up too much…

    • Mike–I agree with much of your analysis and know you share a lot of my own frustrations. However your “…my kids have taught me that this coming generation is more tolerant and welcoming, and generally better, than our generation is/has been. I only hope that we don’t mess things up too much…” lends hope to an otherwise dismal future. And, of course thanks for taking the time to read the column and comment.

    • BobbyH–I’m not sure whether, if you are correct, is something I feel good or bad about. (Not the underpinnings part with which I agree). But thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Very appreciated.

  2. I understand your frustrations, but just where the hell would you go? The Utopia you seek just doesn’t exist on this Earth. I guess you could find yourself an empty island or remote, off-the grid location, but either the bears , the mosquitoes, or snakes would get you sooner or later. You are cursed with a “too high expectation of human behavior,” old chum.

    • Marty–I’m really not seeking a utopia but rather the kind of change in this country that at least attempts to equalize reality for all of us. When the income disparity is *worse* than it was during the Robber Baron era, when we can’t stop having war after war, when our kids can only find part-time jobs at big box stores that have driven main street off the grid, well, I do believe we’d all be better off. But you’re absolutely correct in saying “… either the bears , the mosquitoes, or snakes would get you sooner or later” with one exception. It would definitely be sooner rather than later.

      As far as being cursed with a “too high expectation of human behavior,” you might be accurate. But I’d prefer that than the opposite blessing.

  3. You put into concise wording the bunched up around the ankles feelings that trip and hang me up, Zach. Because I won’t be running anywhere, any time soon, I feel at least not alone when I read what you see and know. Because within the darkness we do commune. Since I do not understand evolution of societies, nor ever plan on trying to, I get up each day. I know I can do one thing each day to better the space around me. That’s about it.
    When we lived with the Lakota Sioux on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation a black doctor came to practice there. The people hated and shunned him because he was black. I went out of my way to immerse myself in a level of society that struggles with true poverty on a multi-generational basis and found some of the most abhorrent greed I’ve ever witnessed.
    I don’t think I’m going to vote either, but something inside me feels lazy about it.
    At sixty-six I feel un-trusting of everything I hear anywhere because I always feel, in my guts, that I don’t know the whole story. Life is more often a slap in the face for me when I think I finally have anything figured out. Because usually some important piece of information is withheld.
    The only thing I settle back on is that a person like you will still care enough to help give me some light. Then, at least, I don’t feel so damned alone as I my way along in the dark.
    My Sat Guru says we are in the Iron Age… which is a massive distance from the original Golden Age. And that’s all I know about societal evolution.
    Thank you for your always thoughtful write.

    • Kathleen–Thank you for your thoughtful perceptions. And thank you for the kind words you expressed about me. But most of all, thank you for: “Since I do not understand evolution of societies, nor ever plan on trying to, I get up each day. I know I can do one thing each day to better the space around me. That’s about it.” That’s about it is no small task.

  4. Nice piece, Z. Of the wealthy, for the wealthy, and by the wealthy. I can’t even despise the rich, much as I’d like to. There is no conspiracy. The problem seems to be unbridled greed, spinning out of control on the dials and keys of theairwaves and the internet. The “common good” is a cliche whose meaning has expired. How about Sweden? I have a nephew there.

  5. What troubles me most about ALL of this Zach, is how dug in people are around protecting their perspective on the world. I have no problem with debate or disagreement. Hell, I’m even up for allowing certain policies to play out in order to determine their effectiveness.

    The problem is, when the facts are in (assuming you can get to the facts) people are unwilling to examine them critically, adjust their perspectives, enact new policies and apply new methods for achieving an outcome.

    What frightens me most are the lengths at which people will go to dismiss evidence in order to preserve their personal beliefs around ______________.

    It’s exactly why Olympia Snowe resigned. No one was willing to work. She may have been a Republican, but she was cut from the same cloth as so many other fiercely independent Maine politicians who were willing to actually work on issues; Margaret Chase Smith and George Mitchell to name a few.

    • Rob–first, thanks for reading and commenting. We agree. I’ve been called out more than once for maintaining friendships with people with whom I disagree. And I also believe (again, probably irrationally) that it’s only thru discussions and dialogue is there any hope for a society that values people (though its policies) over greed and ‘me,me,me.’ And again, it makes me smile that you bothered to read the column.

  6. Sad but true, we have lost our way and I don’t see any breadcrumbs that will lead us back to the values that embrace the human race as one family or that honor the earth as the speck in the universe that gives us shelter and abundance. Perhaps we will go the way of the dinosaurs. Since we are here for “our” duration we can try to do the small things everyday that reflect those values.

    • Beanser–First, I found two comments from you that basically said the same thing so I chose the later one. What you wrote reminds me of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song Can’t Find My Way Home. And it sure looks that way. But like I wrote, I still have this irrational belief that while we’re very lost now, we need not remain so forever. But like you suggest, we won’t be around forever so we can only do what we can while we’re here. Also, thanks for taking the time to read the column and comment. Very much appreciated.

  7. Only 36% of eligible voters participated in the 2014 election, 64% did not. This is the lowest turnout in 72 years.
    I love young people–have 3 kids, 5 grandkids. Still, there is no hope for change through them. The vast majority are completely brainwashed. It could be no other way with the media completely controlled as it is. If anything, all of them have been taught, and most of them believe, that they and other powerless people in the world have caused their own problems.
    The elites have done an incredible job. The bastards! The neo-cons, fundamentalist Christians, Zionists, Tea Party, etc. alliance will be in complete control of the U. S. by the election of 2016 or 2020 at the latest.

    • Jed. As much as I understand your beliefs and agree with some of them–I can’t live with those glasses. I am obviously pessimistic about what I believe are necessary changes, I won’t simply stop hoping and doing what I can to “keep (that) hope alive.” It’s precisely during the darkest moments that I believe it’s up to progressives to keep the candle lit. During the late 1880s-early 1900s it musta looked pretty bleak. If everyone who say, believed in unions for example, had simply given up, would we have been better off?

  8. hmmmmm —- IS it an issue of having “too high expectations of human behavior”- or is it your Year-of-the RAT perspective on reality as it IS [Like James Baldwin, who was also born the Year of the Rat]. There is no denying that reality; so expectations, high or low, seem not that relevant. Get what I’m sayin’?????

    • Trudy–I feel good about *any* connection to Baldwin is a smile, but as much as I’ve eaten in Chinese restaurants I don’t know the Rat’s implications. And, as usual, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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