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