Jul 4, 2013

The One With the Walter Mitty-ization of America

Today is July 4th 2013.  The day that we celebrate America.  Actually that's not necessarily true.  This is the day that we celebrate what we believe America to be in our minds.  The day that we celebrate an institution that doesn't really exist.  Much like Walter Mitty we have created an entire world in our minds that is not based in reality.

You'll see a lot of chest thumping and back slapping today as people talk about the greatness of America and how this is the most wonderful most greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the earth, as Sean Hannity once said, and yet it's not really based in anything resembling reality.

Don't get me wrong, there's definitely benefits to living in America, but most of the times when you hear people say "America's the best place to live" they tend to add in some variation of "If you lived (insert country here) you'd (insert something horrible happening to you) if you dared speak out."

And therein lies the major fundamental flaw with the thinking that this country is the best and is just a bastion of awesome.  When your entire argument is based on comparing America to the absolute worst of the world, you don't really believe in your argument, I don't think.    If you have to point to dictatorial regimes, and countries where their leaders are literally murdering their people in the streets to make America seem better, that should tell you all you need to know right there.

There are plenty of countries that have freedom, including Canada which for whatever reason gets slagged off by so many Americans.  I have zero problem with Canada, and if I could live anywhere else in the world, it would be Canada.   They basically have pretty much all the benefits of America and few of the downsides.

And people who will get defensive and throw out the bon mot "Well if you don't like it here, why don't you LEAVE!" is missing the point.  It's not that I, or any other critic of this country's past and present doesn't like the country.  It's that we see the country for what it is, and would love for it to be better.

                                               MORE AFTER THE BREAK

It's not that I don't like the country, it's that A. I refuse to get swept up in the Nationalism where you refuse to acknowledge anything negative and only focus on the positive and B. I like to think that the country COULD be so much better, when all people are treated equally and with respect.  Perhaps I'm naive for wanting that, but it's the way I feel.  I think it's infinitely more American to seek the betterment of this country, rather than ignoring all of it's defects in favor of blind nationalism.

Our country has certain phrases that have become synonymous with it over the past two hundred plus years.  Things like "Land of the free, home of the brave." and "Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free".  Now, those things seem to have been essentially voided.

What freedom we have seems to be outweighed by the violations of said freedom.  Whether it's NSA listening in on our phone calls, or the Postal service photographing and logging every piece of mail sent via the USPS, whether it's people who speak out against those violations being branded a traitor and thrown in prison for the rest of their lives with their basic rights violated, or whether it's any number of other things, it seems that this country has lost some of it's shine, I think.

You have the Government treating our captured enemies in inhumane ways in secret prisons, force feeding them to keep them alive when they are on a hunger strike, you have a man suspected of being a terrorist, we kidnap and torture him (including sexually assaulting him), then when we realize he's innocent, we just drop them off on some road and vanish into the night.

Is that America?  Is that what we talk about when we sing the Star Spangled Banner?

When you have a justice system that penalizes Black defendants much more harshly than White defendents for similar offenses (and sometimes lesser offenses), then is THAT the  freedom that people talk about on July 4th?

Such as Tyrone Brown?  He was party to a $2 robbery when he was 17 years old, and was given a 10 year suspended sentence and probation by a Judge Dean in Texas.  He later tested positive once for marijuana and Dean sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.

Then you have the case of  John Alexander Wood, a rich well connected white man who murdered a prostitute and was ALSO given a 10 year suspended sentence.  After Wood repeatedly tested positive for cocaine and was arrested for cocaine possession, Judge Dean allowed him to not only stay free, but exempted him from having to take drug tests or meet with his probation officer.

Brown was incarcerated at a maximum security prison for 17 years until Texas Governor Rick Perry gave him a conditional pardon, mandating that he live with his mother, get a job and meet with a therapist.

Wood was never sent to jail, and his probation was eventually lifted.

Is that what people talk about when they get angry at anyone that dares say America's not the best?

When you have people spending decades in prison for crimes they didn't commit, and then when they are finally exonerated and freed, you have states that prevent them from seeking restitution for the lost years of their lives?  Is that fairness?  Is that integrity?

This country was founded on the bloodshed of Native Americans.  This country was built off the backs of African Americans via slavery.  The railroads was built off the laborof the Chinese.  The list goes on and on.  Even when minorities are given their freedom, the system is still set up against them in just about every way imaginable.

Then you have some ignorant White people who don't understand why more Black people aren't doing better.  "Slavery has been over for a long time, folks, when are you going to move on?" is something that incredibly is still said in 2013.   But that kind of statement belies a critical point.  It's not an even playing field, despite slavery being done with decades ago.

Imagine two people are in a race.  It's a cross country race, on foot, from Seattle Washington to Tampa Florida.  That is, roughly 3,100 miles.  Now you have two people who are equal in abilities and whatnot.  Now, being a foot race, this is gonna take a good while to run across the country.   The 1st guy gets to leave today, July 4th 2013, from Seattle heading to Tampa.

Now, once that 1st guy gets to North Dakota, about 1,400 miles, the 2nd guy is able to start the race.  Now imagine during that race, as they maintain the same pace, as they're both matched up evenly stamina wise, health wise, fitness, wise, that the first guy starts getting cocky and making disparaging comments about the 2nd guy.

"I don't understand why he's not doing better.  I mean yeah he was prevented from starting on time and whatnot, but that's done with. He's in the race now!  He clearly just doesn't have the drive that I do"

And therein lies the problem.  You have people who are bragging that others are not on an equal pace when they were kept back for so long.  If you have one group of people who have been steady making money, building that money, passing that money along generation to generation becoming more and more wealthy and powerful, and then you have another group that has been prevented from earning comparable wages, from having a steady situation, from even learning how to read and be educated for so long, how are you going to expect the shit to be equal ground?

And that doesn't even factor in the "war on drugs" which has done irreparable damage to the African American community an an extremely disproportionate manner as opposed to the White community.

In the 1st episode of Season 1 of HBO's series "The Newsroom", Jeff Daniels's character "Will McAvoy" was asked why America was the greatest country in the world.  And he went on a very good monologue about how it isn't, and listed all the ways that America was lagging behind the rest of the world in areas like Math, Science, etc, yet was leading in stats like most incarcerated.


And I was with him until the second part of his speech, where he said "We used to be".

I beg to differ.  Ask the women who weren't allowed to vote about how great this country used to be.  Ask the African American civil rights leaders who were beaten and had dogs sicced on them and had water hoses turned on them for daring to want to get a proper education, or vote, or be treated as equals, how great it used to be in the old days.  Ask the Chinese people who were run out of towns in the middle of the freezing cold night to die, because White people were mad because they (the Chinese) had jobs that the Whites wanted.

Via James Loewen's excellent and meticulously researched book "Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism":

Rock Springs, Wyoming, built at a coal mine owned by the Union Pacific that was the biggest single source of coal for it's locomotives, was the site of one of the earliest expulsions.  The railroad had hired hundreds of Chinese American miners, most of whom lived in a separate neighborhood, "Chinatown."

On September 2nd 1885, led by the Knights of Labor, at least 150 White miners and railroad workers, most of them armed, gave the Chinese "one hour to pack their belongings and leave town,"  according to historian Craig Storti.

Then they attacked.

"The Chinamen were fleeing like a herd of hunted antelope, making no resistance.  Volley upon volley was fired after the fugitives," Storti tells.  It was chaotic: "Most carried nothing at all, not even their money."  Many hid in their homes, but the rioters then burned Chinatown, incinerating those who were hiding there.  Storti quotes an eyewitness:

"The stench of burning human flesh was sickening and almost unendurable, and was plainly discernible for more than a mile along the railroad both east and west. ... Not a living Chinaman - man, woman or child - was left in the town where 700 to 900 had lived the day before, and not a single house, shanty or structure of any kind that had ever been inhabited by a Chinaman was left unburned."

Those who fled were hardly better off, because the temperature dropped below freezing that night, so scores died from exposure.  According to Bill Bryson, this persecution in Rock Springs led to the expression, "He doesn't have a Chinaman's chance."

You think that's an an example of America's greatness?

Now all countries have things in their past that they are not particularly proud of.  I'm not saying that there's nothing good about this country, because that's just not true, however I feel that a lot of people seem to have this rose colored view of American History how it used to be like in the movie Pleasantville.   It's all pure and innocent, and everyone was hard working and America was just humming along.  This was illustrated in TV series from that time period like Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons and the like.

Incidentally those shows also seemed to depict 99% White people.  I say 99% because while I don't recall any Black people on those shows, I haven't seen every episode to say with certitude.

We spend way too much time and effort and money trying to help out all these other countries in the world when we need to fix our own problems.  We have homeless people here in our country, we have children that don't have enough to eat, who are living on the streets, we have discrimination, racism, etc, etc, etc all throughout this nation of ours,  that we need to fix.

We have an incredibly amount of income inequality in this country, we have people in power who do not have our best interests at heart, instead they have the lobbyists and the corporations best interests at heart.  We have those making laws to take away rights from us, and yet we're told the biggest threat to is is Muslims?  Mexicans coming across the border?

"The New Colossus", etched into the Statue of Liberty reads, in part:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Now?  It seems to be GTFO, especially if you're a darker shade of immigrant. Is that the America that is so great? The kind that limits who is considered "American" by what race you are or what your parent's origins are?  How do you think those Native Americans think about our Immigration policies?  If they were alive and hadn't, you know, been murdered by those setting up this wonderful nation, I'm sure they would have laughed to keep from crying.

So rather than the "Scary Muslims" or the "Job Stealing Mexicans", I think our worst enemy is us.  We keep electing "the lesser of two evils" instead of having a legitimate election system.  That is if you believe that our votes matter, which I personally don't.  We keep allowing the money to corrupt the political system to the point where it really doesn't matter WHO runs, unless you have money, you're not getting nominated much less elected.

We spend an incredible amount of money on defense, in fact out of the top 20 countries as far as Defense spending goes, we dwarf everyone else.  The kicker to that?  Virtually everyone in the top 20 are our allies, meaning we have nothing to fear from them attacking us.  Yet every year we're told we have to spend more more more, and if you DARE suggest we not get more money then you're un-American and want the terrorists to win. That's money that could be used to fix our schools and infrastructure.  Money that could be used to help people get off the streets, to help people out in this country.

You know, the kind of thing that the man that most of these politicians claim to love would do.  You know, that guy Jesus Christ?  Instead these politicians, and our entire country it seems, is designed to do everything in it's power to go AGAINST the actual teachings of Christ, to help out those less fortunate, to do unto others, to help the "least of you" rather than the rich and powerful.  And we have allowed this country to devolve into something that we broke away from England in the first place to avoid, and that is a state run religion.  Freedom of Religion means we all can worship who we want, how we want, and without the State telling us which one is preferential. 

Sadly everything is backwards.

So today, July 4th, you'll hear a lot about how awesome America is and how we are so much better than anywhere else.  And if you want to believe that, that's completely up to you.  All I ask is that you perhaps take some time and really think about the reality of the situation that this country finds itself in.  And then ask yourself, exactly for WHOM is this country the greatest?

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. Tweeted. Though Canada, where I live, is by no means perfect, there is a lot to love about it, and much less, I think, to fear. For example, no one I know fears getting sick. At least we know we won't have to re-mortgage our homes if we do. That feels like freedom to me. Or at least peace of mind. Your country's fear of national health care for your citizens makes no sense, given that Americans see no reason not to have a national military machine. Why is the government fine for defense, but heaven help you if they provided healthcare?


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