What So Proudly We Hailed …
When I was a child, I believed like most kids who came of age in the 50s and very early 60s, I believed the myth about the United States. The myth was that we, as a nation, were fair and followed the path of righteousness in all things. I was brought up on; “George Washington never told a lie… “Yes Dad, I chopped that cherry tree down.” There was no doubt in my young man that Mr. Lincoln really deserved to be called “Honest” Abe. Teddy Roosevelt? What could be wrong with a man who spoke softly, but carried a big stick? Presidents were all heroes. there wasn’t a rotten apple in the entire barrel.
I learned all of this in school, and teachers, after all, told it to us like it was. Total truth reigned! As the 60s began, I was transfixed by John F. Kennedy, and all that he represented as an exponent of idealism. He spoke to me, and despite the fact that I was too young to actually vote, I was not too young to work in some small way toward his election. I knew that it was important that Richard Nixon be defeated, that he never be President. It was at this time that I cut my teeth in political awareness, still holding to my belief that all things American were fair, and within the reach of everyone. It was still the right time to “Ask not what your country can do for you, Ask what you can do for your country!”
I did not recognize the evil then inherent in the way many people were being treated. I knew minorities were treated differently than the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male. I knew it, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was. People of color were not being given a fair shake, but even in my Northern Liberal comfort, I didn’t realize the depth of the wrongs being done to them. Women? Hell man, all women wanted to get married, have children and keep hearth and home for a man! Didn’t they? Gay people? Were they not as evil as State Governments and law enforcement said they were? I was still semi-closeted… still feeling the guilt, and had faced the torment that gay kids experienced at school, in church and at home. Though underage, I was already witness to police rousting gay men in their bars. I had done my share of internalizing the homophobia that was my “lot.” After all, much of my heart and mind still belonged to America, and we were all like Superman, fighting for “truth, justice and the American way.” If Americans were anti-gay, then perhaps they are correct.
Then we saw the fire hoses and the dogs turned on the peaceful demonstrations for racial equality. We heard the soul searing rhetoric of Martin Luther King. We saw death in our living rooms as Jack, Martin and then Bobby were felled by the cowardly bullets from the guns of assassins. We saw sections of our cities torched as expressions of frustration. We saw our youth hity the streets in political demonstrations, not the least of them at Kent State where flower-carrying children were shot and killed by National Guard rifles. Clearly, our house was not in order.
Viet Nam flared in Napalm fueled artificial light, and the whole scene was colored a bright Agent Orange hue. The hell of Viet Nam boiled over onto American college campuses and into our city streets. and some of us truly meant “hell no, we won’t go.” Canada was just to the North.
In the flames and the turmoil of the sixties, my total belief in our system lost its virginity. I came to see that we were all being fucked by a government that was not subservient to the people. The government was not the champion of the downtrodden, but rather, or so it seemed to me, was operating for the benefit of the power-structure itself. I didn’t like what I was feeling, but it was mine to chew on.
Time passed, and life became quieter, but dissension and disbelief were always there now. A skepticism born of terrible turmoil would not die. Nixon did become president, and true to what was feared when he ran against JFK, he should not have. He and his corrupt cronies abrogated the rights of the people and were caught in blatant law-breaking, and none too soon, this President had no choice but to leave office. Where he stood during his time in power, a scar would always remain.
Polarization of the political structure and of the electorate itself had begun to take root. The siege mentality employed during the Nixonian years had had an effect, and many who embraced a Conservative bent believed erroneously their man had been railroaded.
There was to be no recovery from that kind of thinking. During the Reagan years, even more polarization was to occur with those at the top being encouraged to be as selfish and uncaring as they could possibly choose to be as they saw it as their right to take it all and to hell with whatever could have, should have trickled down to the poor. The Reaganesque take on morality was never more strongly visible than when this President ignored the incipient Plague centered on and decimating the gay male population. This kind of thinking continued and grew through the Bush I years, and was couple with a new kind of political hate expressed against Bill Clinton and his wife, when every trick was used to prevent this President from being able to govern. Mr. Clinton’s venal transgressions fed into the hate of the Conservative Right, giving them fodder for their hate campaign.
Bush II frosted that cake. He had such contempt for the citizens of the United States that he thought nothing of using a cataclysmic tragedy that could have gone far to heal the breach between political ideologies, to instead foment more hate with his illegal and obscene wars. From his seat of power, he waged wars and robbed from funding sources for services to the poor so that he could further enrich his oil-soaked friends. He established a tax structure that so favored the very rich and guaranteed that the disparity between the wealthy and the poor would widen and perhaps become insurmountable. Under his leadership, minorities were again belittled. African Americans’ hard fought gains were threatened by more intense poverty, and GLBT citizens faced new hatred as the Religious Right, as courted by the Conservative GOP renewed and intensified their war against any advancement.
Electing the very first Bi-Racial President should have been a cause for celebration and cooperation from all segments of the population, but it was too soon made into an occasion to further mire the law-making apparatus into constant verbal tug-of-war that would not produce for the people. The so-called Tea Party, another conservative branch of the GOP came into being. Health Care Reform, something that everyone would benefit from, especially the poor and the elderly, was emasculated before the law could be passed, and even in its present form is being threatened even after its passage.
The Republican Party has sold itself out to the financial backers of the Tea Party, to the Religious Right, to the American Firsters, to the Wall Street Bankers, to the 2% at the top of the financial heap, to the sheiks and the Middle East despots who sit on the oil reserves, and to their American supporters. Boehner, Palin, Gingrich, West, Governor Wilson, Governor Scott, all of you who ride the wave of hate and selfishness are bringing this Nation to a point from which there may be no recovery. Do you care at all that no government can hold a people down, and it has been proven through history that your “let them eat cake” attitude cannot be successful. All of those being trod upon by the Conservatives mindset will look for relief from your hate and your oppression.
My view of the United States has changed and changed dramatically over the past 40+ years. There are many like me who have changed their view and no longer believe it is moral to say “My Country Right or Wrong.” Judgmental finger pointing and resultant oppression of those who believe differently must cease and cease now. Moral imperative demands it. Selfishness in the name of “rights” must cease. Everyone, and most certainly including the Millionaires of this country, must pay a fair income tax. They must recognize their responsibility to cities and states in which they live, to the poor and down-trodden, to our schools and to the sick. Selfishness must cease…. If we are to survive as a society with a way of life that has any sort of viability, selfishness MUST cease.
The David- Then we saw the fire hoses and dogs turned on peaceful demonstrations for equality. We heard the soul searing rhetoric of Martin Luther King.