06. October 2018 · Comments Off on Throwing America away · Categories: Uncategorized

I grew up in an immigrant home with a profound prejudice. My parents hated Americans. They loved America. But the people born here were a different story. Americans were lazy, stupid, naive, arrogant, thoughtless, soft, spoiled, weak and did I mention lazy? The worst thing my parents could say about my behavior was, “You’re acting like an American.” That’s when I knew I had hit rock bottom. I’ve been around immigrant kids from other cultures and their parents. I don’t think my parents’ attitude about Americans was all that unusual.

I’d not infrequently have discussions with my dad about this prejudice. I’d ask, ”How could such lazy, dumb people produce the America you love so much?” His answer was usually along the lines of, “They got lucky. They’re so stupid that they don’t know how lucky they are and will, one day, throw it all away in a second.” I’d find this answer preposterous. Since 2016, I’ve started to believe his answer has some validity.

It’s not that I think that Americans are stupid and lazy. That was my mother and father’s view, not mine. But they have taken their liberties for granted. They don’t vote in large numbers. They don’t protest in large numbers. They are mostly passive in response to political change and there has been profound political change in America. As Yeats, the Irish poet, once wrote one hundred years ago during the tumult after the end of World War I, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

The passionate intensity is coming from the American right. It has been passionate and destructive for over 20 years. The GOP used to be a party of moderates and conservatives who worked across the aisle to compromise and make America better. But in the 1990s, the GOP became radicalized. Its leaders like Newt Gingrich condemned compromise. The other side, the Democrats, became the enemy to be destroyed. The GOP began to game American politics to its advantage. Voters who were poor and non-white were taken off state voting rolls in the name of “protecting America from voting fraud.” Political districts were gerrymandered with the help of computers to make possible GOP minority rule in state governments and in the US House of Representatives. Courts were stacked with GOP operatives. Through this process, decent Americans were complacent. They continued to not vote in large numbers. They didn’t protest.

Then in 2016, the passionate worst won the presidency. A crude, mentally-ill, ignorant man who hated people of color and women began to take America on a crooked and awful path. Immigrants were demonized. Hateful, racist, white nationalistic language was embraced in the White House and in Congress. Courts were packed with even more political operatives. The doors of a country built on immigration were shut to newcomers. I note that my parents would have been denied entry into the US if America had elected such a hateful president in the 1940s. This week, Trump and the GOP have packed the Supreme Court with enough GOP political operatives to turn a once revered and distinguished court known for political independence and decency into just another crooked and corrupt arm of government.

None of this would have happened had Americans widely participated in government in one simple way. If only they had voted, America would be healthy today. If the poor had voted, if people of color had voted, if young adults had voted, we would have decent responsible government. Instead we have radical right-wingers destroying America and our freedoms.

I’ll move from the national scale to the personal to draw an analogy. Once I was at a strange job interview when at the end of the day, the chair of the search committee took me out to dinner. Instead of professional talk, he opened up about his wife leaving him. He told me of his failings to his wife honestly. He’d cheated on her repeatedly. He’d taken her for granted. Now that she was gone, he felt awful. He missed her desperately. “What can I do to get her back?” he asked me.

I told him I wasn’t a marriage counselor and I felt awkward giving advice, especially to someone I barely knew. He said, “But you’ve been married a long time and are happily married, right? Just tell me what you think.”

I said, “Well, from what you’ve told me, you’ve been an awful husband. Truly awful. Sometimes you don’t get a second chance. You can beg her to come back. But from what you’ve told me, maybe she shouldn’t believe you.” I’ve often wondered if I was being cruel that night, but as time has gone on I think I was right to give that man a verbal slap in the face.

Now it’s time for Americans to get a slap in the face. My father was right about one thing. American citizens have taken this country for granted. They’ve been terrible at being responsible citizens. Because of their complacency, their liberties and what makes this country admirable and decent are being stolen. They are, by their lack of action, throwing a democratic America away.

Unlike the chair of the search committee I had dinner with, Americans can get back what they took for granted. There will be an election on November 6th. Vote. Get everyone you know to vote. The passionate worst are going to try to make sure you don’t get a second chance.