Saturday, August 10, 2019

BTRTN: Trump, Send Me Back To The Country I Came From, Too

Two more horrific mass shootings. A President denying that his own racist rhetoric contributes to the toxic, combustive environment. A Congress that often claims it should be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” with little evidence that it can do either. Who are we, and what do we do now?

I, too, came from a different country, President Trump.

It was far, far from where I live today in the United States of America.

I miss the country I was born and raised in. It was better than the one I live in now.

Go ahead. Tell me that if I am unhappy living in the United States, I should leave it and go home to where I came from. 

Yeah, I may be an English-speaking WASP dripping in privilege, but, hey – why not? Go ahead… I dare you.  Tell me to go home, too.

I’m not saying the country I came from was perfect. Far from. It had flaws. Big flaws. Inequities. Injustice. Discrimination. Biases. Factions. Anger. Even hate.

But it woke up every day with a fierce determination to become better.

It started each day knowing that it had to reduce inequity and fight discrimination, that it had a duty to protect and defend its most vulnerable, that the true measure of its economic success was if all citizens were afforded the opportunity to reach their potential, and that it was right and just to welcome those who left their own homelands in search of a better life.

That country held a light to the world and inspired millions around the globe to believe that they, too, could aspire to a better, freer, more just society.

That country was able to achieve these great things because its citizens cared deeply about their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those citizens would rise and fight any threat to those rights – be if from hostile foreign regimes, domestic criminals, fellow citizens who attempted to abridge the inalienable rights of their peers, or even -- particularly -- if such a threat came from their own elected officials. Those citizens were fighters.

I won’t bore you with the long, uneven journey I have traveled to end up living in the United States of America in 2019. But this country makes me ache for one I left behind.

Because here in the United States of America in 2019, I am living in a country so inured to unspeakable violence that the mass slaughter of men, women, children, and babies barely penetrates the public consciousness.

It is a country that doles out AR-15s to violent white nationalists like they were Hershey’s Kisses on Halloween.

It is a country whose people can only understand the horrific brutality of assault weaponry if it happens in their own town, and if they actually know or saw one of the people whose torsos were ripped to shreds in a wild fusillade of burning bullets.

If such carnage happens in a town called Someplace Else, they forget about it as quickly as they forget Season 21 of The Bachelor. What was that town again? Was it Dayton? Or Toledo? Didn’t a lot of people get killed somewhere in Florida? Doesn’t this usually happen way far away down south? Well, wait… I guess there was that time all those children were slaughtered in Connecticut...

It is a country whose citizens do not care enough, have the will enough, or have the ability to force own their government to do something – anything – to reduce gun violence. Maybe it is a bit of all three. 

Doing something would take actual work and effort, and most citizens of the United States appear to have something more important to do, like binge-watch the new series on Netflix, polish their social media avatar, or down a few Bud Lights during the Astros game. Sure, they are indignant that nothing gets done. But shouldn’t someone else who lives someplace else be doing that work? Like, why aren’t all those people in Dayton and El Paso doing something? I mean, it happened to them, right?

Maybe it is a country where the citizens just gave up because they know that they can’t get anything done.

Maybe they've resigned themselves to the notion that if they marched and screamed and held their breath for legislation, NRA toadie Mitch McConnell would block if from ever reaching the Senate floor. Maybe they have come to believe that Mitch McConnell is such a hollow, cynical, corrupted, and power-hungry soul that he would rather facilitate de facto genocide than risk losing a floor vote to Democrats.

It is a country in which gun violence erupts on an ever-increasing basis because of hatred of otherness – be those differences be borne of race, gender, identity orientation, or nationality.  It is a country whose leader is a cowardly draft dodger who pours gasoline on racial, gender, and identity fault lines and then casually tosses a match, all for the purpose of clinging to power.

It is a country whose Republican legislators are a collection of spineless, terrified lackeys who turn a blind eye to criminality, misogyny, racial bigotry, xenophobia, hypocrisy, and deceit lest fighting for a principle might weaken them politically or cost them their precious seat.

It is a country whose Republican citizens are too preoccupied with the preservation of their own wealth, or too entertained and delighted by the crude race-baiting, immigrant-taunting, minority-hating tweets of their President to notice that their freedoms, institutions, and climate are being aggressively savaged by ruthless profiteers and authoritarians.

It is a country whose citizens, Republican and Democrat alike, are largely standing on the sidelines, doing nothing, and waiting for somebody else to do the hard work of democracy. 

Yes, Trump, you craven, disgraceful poser, please send me back to the country I came from. 

I only wish you could.

Let me tell you where I came from.

I was born, raised, and educated from 1953 to 1975 in a country called the United States of America.

Problems? Oh, God, did we have problems. Racial injustice, a horrific, stupid war, and a criminal in the White House, just to name a few. It’s not that there weren’t problems.

It’s that we did something about them.

We, the people, did something about them.

The citizens took action. That made the government take action. And that – that – made for a sturdy, steady, defiant, undeniable thing progress.

For starters, it was a country that believed that the economy should be a rising tide that raises all boats, so that all of its citizens could take aim at the American dream. It was a roaring engine of capitalism that created an upwardly mobile middle class. Its tax polices were not a sloppy wet kiss for the rich and powerful. It managed to create wealth and distribute it equitably throughout the population, ever raising the living standard.
Back then, citizens wanted leaders who were moved by principle rather expediency, by patriotism rather than partisanship. Many of the politicians had principles. Many were patriots who actually based decisions on what was good for the country, not what was good for the party, and often not on what would be the best political course personal for their own re-election.

Americans forget that it was the Democrats – and the free, objective press – who brought down Lyndon Johnson. People like Gene McCarthy and then Robert Kennedy were not the kind of men who were easily muzzled into terrified silence by party boss thugs like McConnell. They called the Vietnam war for the disaster that it was, and they challenged their own party’s sitting President because they knew it was the right thing to do

Ir was a fiercely independent journalist named Walter Cronkite who was so trusted by citizens -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- that his nationally televised words of doubt about Vietnam helped turn the tide of public opinion against the war, and against Johnson. You didn't hear Lyndon Johnson try to smear Walter Cronkite as "fake news." He knew -- everyone knew -- who had more credibility.

Americans also forget that it was the Republicans – and the free, objective press – who brought down Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon would never have resigned if not for powerful Senate Republicans who finally acknowledged the criminality of his White House. It was investigative reporters at The Washington Post – not a government investigative entity – that had the guts, credibility, and willpower to expose the trail that led directly to Nixon’s crimes.

You bet we had discrimination, senseless violence, stupid foreign policy, and we even also had a criminal in the White House. But in that country, our politicians and our journalists actually understood that their role was to be patriots first and partisans second. In that country, our citizens knew that the problems of the country were theirs to solve.

Yes, many people will read this and fairly remember only the racism, sexism, gender identity repression of that era, and yes, that is the authentic memory for many women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community. It is undeniable that those feelings were and still are very powerful. My point is simply that in that era, the majority of Americans were committed to getting better as a society. The moral arc of the universe did bend toward justice, because the citizenry pushed it in that direction. And I would like to believe that many of the improvements we have witnessed in our society on these exact issues were due to the exertion, the determination, and the grit of Americans of every race, color, creed, gender, and sexual identity. That, indeed, is my point. It was an era that witnessed evil but sought to fix it.

It is that grit, that sense of an obligation to improve, that steady and unrelenting pressure on the moral arc of the universe that is missing today.

Yeah, we had problems, all right, but we, as a nation, were fiercely determined to become better. 

We believed that we could solve any problem if we summoned the right combination of analysis, science, resolve, and guts. 

Here's the essential difference between America then and America now:

Back then, we had racial injustice, the bloodshed of a senseless war on the other side of the world, and a criminal in the White House. But we acted. We protested ferociously. We did something about each of these problems.

Today, Republican leaders fan the flames of racial bigotry and discrimination, we have the bloodshed of ever-recurring gun madness in the town next door, and we have a criminal in the White House. 

And yet in the country I live in today, we do nothing.

In the country I live in today, citizens appear content to sit on the sidelines of life, drinking beer, watching tv, and waiting for the people in Dayton, El Paso, Las Vegas, Orlando, Parkland High School, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Sutherland Springs, Thousand Oaks, Pittsburgh, Stoneman Douglas High School, San Bernardino, and Santa Fe to finally do something about the killings that happened in their towns.

In the country I live in now, Republican Senators cower like shriveled up wimps, terrified of Trump, and live a life of fear in which keeping their job is more important to them than principle, dignity, justice, equality, human decency, and the protection of life itself.

Of all the predictable reactions to the latest round of mass murders, the one we should be most suspicious of is the news that Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are now "considering" legislation requiring background checks on gun purchases. We've heard that talk before, always in the hours after a mass shooting. It is all part of the Republican playbook. It has always been a smokescreen to give Trump and McConnell time and cover while they wait for the next new cycle's horrors to swipe El Paso and Dayton out of the cable news opening blocs.

Maybe I will be proven wrong. Back on October 4, 2017, three days after a gunman killed 58 Americans and wounded 422 others, we wrote a piece entitled "What Happened in Vegas Will Stay in Vegas," in which we predicted that there would be no change in America's gun laws in the wake of the worst mass shooting in the nation's history. 

We were not wrong then.

If the founding fathers could see the state of the nation that they founded today, they would see the problem for what it is.

The problem is we, the people.

We, the people, don’t give a shit. 
Not enough of us to get out of our societal chaise lounge and actually do the hard work of democracy.

I was born, raised, and educated in a country that did give a shit.

Perhaps it is time that we all take a moment to look at the mass shooter in the mirror.

No, nobody is saying that we pulled the trigger. 

No, we didn’t do that.

We didn’t do anything.

We didn't do anything to stop it.

And that is the problem with the country I live in.

We are not each pushing -- each in our own way, and each as hard as we can -- to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

The country I live in is riding the escalator down to shithole status, led my the man who knows one when he makes one. A man who has the gall to say “Make America Great Again” as he ruthlessly undermines all that actually did make us once great.

Send me home, Trump. Send me far as far away from you as possible. Send me back where I belong.

I am a citizen of the United States of America. 

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