In my last post I re-blogged a post from 3.5 years ago, written on the precipice of Trump’s inauguration. I talked about how divided we were as a country. But it wasn’t just politics but race that I brought into my discussion. I said that “an American is somebody whose ancestors floated over on the Mayflower and an American is somebody who had their naturalization ceremony last week and an American is somebody whose ancestors arrived in the hull of slave ships.” No wonder we have such of a time of being – and staying – a United people. I know we’re supposed to be in the land of the free and the home of the brave but are we free and brave? Fear seems to drive much of modern life and clearly many people don’t feel free, with the abundance of poverty across the country and the “opportunities” not being spread equally. How free does the average dark-skinned person or an immigrant with an accent feel? How free are the people living in the rural Appalachian region or on impoverished Indian reservations in the West or on the streets of our big cities?
I wrote that Americans tend to come together when we have a common enemy. When that happens for the most part people stop fighting with each other long enough to direct energies toward the intruder. I said this happened with the world wars and again after Sept 11, 2001. I daresay it happened again this year with the Coronavirus. Right out of the gate there was a “We’re all in this together” sentiment. It didn’t last long.
On the eve of the 2008 election I said to someone that I would be so proud of this country if it elected Obama. It gave me such hope that our young country was growing up and evolving, that the rampant racism in America was, if not disappearing, at least dissipating. I was not naive enough to share in widespread jubilation that was in the air in the early months of Obama’s presidency because I knew it was a honeymoon period and backlash was coming. I was right; it just came faster than I expected. One man can not make everything perfect for everybody.
That backlash continued right on through Trump’s election. I still don’t know how a country that elected Obama could be the same one that elected Trump. But the divisions among us clearly run deeper than is typically evident on a daily basis when the country turns much of its attention to the latest celebrity scandal or Apple product or winning sports team.
It was a celebrity scandal in 1995 that prompted the post I re-blogged. In the process of our country being riveted by the O.J. Simpson trial, the depth of the racial divide that still persisted was exposed. Black Americans as a group had no trouble believing police planted evidence in an effort to convict a black man, even a very famous one. Whites as a group, I among them, thought that was improbable if not preposterous.
In my 2017 post I noted that it would take something dramatic and almost certainly negative – whether I liked it or not – to bring this country together. I think that’s happened, first with the Coronavirus, and then in the murder of George Floyd. White people have been shocked out of complacency: WE LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE A WHITE POLICE OFFICER WITH A NONCHALANT ALMOST SMUG EXPRESSION CAN SLOWLY MURDER A BLACK MAN ACCUSED OF A MINOR CRIME WHO IS BEGGING FOR HIS LIFE IN FRONT OF MULTIPLE BYSTANDERS WHO ARE FILMING AND PLEADING WITH THE OFFICERS TO STOP TO NO AVAIL?!?!????
I am wonderfully heartened by the swaths of Americans coming forward, speaking, marching, protesting, and calling for change. Hope comes in the shape of youth. But I am disheartened still by how many young people are full of hate. We have too many with twisted agendas who want to turn time and progress back, be they KKK members, nazi sympathizers, or generic home grown terrorists stockpiling guns and homemade bombs in their parents’ garages. Clearly something is wrong that we have no shortage of them.
Politically, the extreme ends are digging in their heels as our 2020 election looms. To be clear, for some time now I have felt that a reasonably life-like mannequin would make a better president. I am not excited about Biden but frankly, a bland President who doesn’t appear unstable is just fine at this point. Will it happen? I’m no political analyst but it’ll probably take a combination of a) enough Trump supporters becoming disillusioned and b) getting people who don’t usually vote, who don’t think voting matters, to actually do it. (My prediction: Biden will win by a slim margin and Trump will demand appeals, probes, re-counts, and inquiries the likes of which we have never seen. It will be ugly as hell and drag on for months if not years.)
Unfortunately there isn’t anyone on the horizon who can unite us all, not at this point. Maybe unity isn’t going to come from the top down, maybe the groundswell in the ranks is a better source. Seeing Americans marching by the thousands in the streets makes me prouder and feel more American than any politician does. We live in a place we’re allowed to do this, where we can speak out, and that above all else, is our strength.
I once read that legislation must change before people’s attitudes do. I’m sure plenty of people were against abolishing slavery, against women’s right to vote, and against child labor laws, to name a few. Over decades people accepted all of these as the norm. We’ll get there. Maybe not in my lifetime.