Boy, has this place changed, Toto. Some days our America seems as unfamiliar as Oz. We’ve seen odd characters with no brain, heart or courage in abundance but enough about politics. We’ve been in twisty, scary situations before. In fact, history is full of times when the red, white and blue was as divided as the Hatfields and McCoys, complete with messy family food fights.
It’s been said this past election didn’t divide America – it revealed it. Racism and xenophobia are hardly new; they are just more butt naked than we’ve seen them for awhile. Did we think political paranoia left the building when Joe McCarthy did? Ha! We might have been a teeny bit convinced that we made healthy improvements in womens’ rights and sexual choice tolerance, but no. And immigrants? Fear of the ‘other’ is stoked daily, as you wait. Every culture has gone through a purgatory of prejudice and alienation when they arrive on our shores, but, these days, the Statue of Liberty hides her face in utter shame.
For 243 years, America has invented, innovated, inspired and banded together for better. We’ve dominated both outer and cyberspace. Baseball, blue jeans, jazz and rock ‘n roll are as American as too many guns, slavery and the atomic bomb. Everything is big in America – buildings, landscapes, cars, business – and dreams. To many, their dream is elusive along their respective Yellow Brick Roads.
But few things in life are linear – and history isn’t neat.
Over the decades we’ve seen riots, scandals, assassinations, world wars and cold wars. We’ve struggled with healthcare, financial reform, racial strife, taxes and political mayhem. There’s little we haven’t seen. When elections were over, protests were heard, amendments enacted, and we usually went back to business as usual. No matter how politics, cultural roots or societal platforms differed, we united as AMERICA, not a polarized land of misfit toys.
From my ol’ broad catbird seat, it seems disillusionment and division rule the day. Once a frightening presence, splinter groups like Neo-Nazis and white Supremacists now somehow tiki torch their way from shadow to sun, as ‘fine people’. Conversely, a courageous American patriot, imprisoned, tormented for the country he loved, was mocked for differences in opinion. When there is no respect, no olive branches toward national healing, save raspy sound bytes, we are all less.
So here we are. Yippee. Farmers are at the mercy of tariff wars while we grow alternative facts. Automation, not ‘the other’, is changing the business landscape. Thomas Jefferson’s media, the voice of the people, has become a hated target for speaking truth to power. Coal will never again be king though people want badly to believe a happy ending. The climate is rapidly changing our world as we know it. Vile tweets have replaced fireside chats. ‘Be Best’ pretends the real bully doesn’t reside in the Oval.
Those who lived through September 11, our 21st century Pearl Harbor, remember how we walked as one through the aftermath. We gained strength from national pride and from a flag that somehow survived the rubble. The USA chant evoked a different meaning than it does now. We were more cohesive; less combative while the ebb and flow of life continued. Then another war erupted on foreign soil, and a greed-fueled Great Recession fell like a meteor. The rich, as always, got richer and the poor saw security and savings vanish. Our once again sinking morale was ripe for ‘yes, we can’ and we did. But, even as the economy slowly righted, our country didn’t.
In the worst of times, swamp creatures proliferate. The Birther Movement and Tea Party, wrapped in red, white and blue, were a neat smokescreen for racism inherent in electing America’s first black president. That should have been a Paul Revere warning of unthinkable things to come. In bizarro Oz, there’s no middle ground. If we didn’t get it before, the pseudo Wizard laid it out nice and neat on Inauguration Day. In a soap opera called ‘American Carnage’, fiery rhetoric painted a picture of hellfire that a rotted smell of fear of the ‘other’. All that’s followed since, both said and done, is scarily reminiscent of a hellish pestilence that infected a country across the pond 50 years ago.
The Constitution wanted to create ‘a more perfect union’, though the people who comprise that union are far from perfect, a condition of just being human. But even in our imperfections, we can do better. Centuries into our hard won republic, we divide into cultural camps; true patriots or ‘elites’, snowflakes or deplorables, racists or bleeding hearts. Newsflash – no matter how anyone insists they are the ‘Real’ Americans, unless you or your ancestors were those dumped onto reservations — you’re not. If the original native peoples erected a wall at Jamestown or Plymouth Rock to keep out pesky immigrants, there might not have been an America, folks. Then again, seeing how we dissed the people who took US in, maybe immigrants DO take over the place after all.
The economy is in a good place, continuing the upward trajectory began by the previous administration. Jobs and the stock market, ditto. But our national soul? Not so much.
Many of us pray that 2020 helps reinstate our pride, hope and energy, not the America Alone but the shining Emerald city on the hill we hoped we’d always be. Does it truly take a war, here or abroad, to unite us once again? To find common ground? To find ourselves? I sure hope not. There’s not enough Valium in the world to ease that kind of anxiety. Do I understand why some thinking people, who felt alienated, invisible, anxious and ignored, voted against the status quo? I get it. The idea that someone might shake up and break things sounded cool – but we needed more than a Terminator. We needed someone who wanted to FIX things as well, to replace broken pieces with something better, more effective, not rubble. Thinking corruption will change corruption is like thinking a rooster can bring the Feng Shui Zen to a hen house. Not happening.
No one cares if a president doesn’t use the right fork, though a not politically correct tan suit once seemed to shock. Governing by deception, tweet and chaos, however, hasn’t been the best idea either. People need to care if their leader acts on alternative, not authentic facts. The need to care if he reads and listens, respects all people, not just bullies, dictators,a gullible base and a sycophantic TV network. People need to care that their leader tells the truth and to call him on it when he doesn’t – which is most of the time.
Acting presidential doesn’t mean clownish strutting at a cheering pep rally. It doesn’t mean attacking every government institution from Congress and the DOJ to NATO, the FBI and the United Nations. It certainly doesn’t mean blatantly mocking a handicapped reporter or gold star parents. When the KKK endorses a president, hello, it’s really not a compliment. Painting Hispanics as murderers and rapists and Muslims as hell bent to kill us speaks anything but liberty and justice for all. If ‘one of these things is not like the other’, methinks it’s the current Oval resident.
Still, I’d like to believe newer generations, more educated and racially tolerant, will lead us to a better place. I’m hopeful of their newly elected political positions and how they already have been shaking up stodgy, stale Washington ideology. I believe in the women and diverse peoples who are making their voices heard. These times seem dark, and in many ways they are, but we’ve been through worse.
No ‘new kid on the block’ has ever had it easy. But, every journey can lead home when our America is more Statue of Liberty than fearful carny barker. We don’t need an insecure, snake oil Wizard but a brave, open-minded president who already comes with a heart, brain and courage built in.
All of us who have lost someone important in our lives know we will never be the same again. But we can be stronger, live with more purpose, and more wisdom. We, not a marketing slogan, can truly make America great – smarter, kinder and wiser. We will survive the current crises of morality and spirit and, just like Dorothy and her merry band of cohorts, we won’t need the validation of an aging, hypnotic wizard to remember our way. We just need to trust in our own power and talents.
Hold on to your ruby slippers. As Glinda, the Good Witch, said, “You are capable of more than you know.”
And we are.
Note: The cherished book Wizard of Oz was written in the 1890’s by political reporter, L Frank Baum, which is in itself kind of funny. It wasn’t until 1964 that scholars realized the book really was an allegory on American politics, Wall Street, farmers, factory workers, and its fiscal situation in the 19th century. (All those flying monkeys? Yeah, well Baum was super racist, as well as populist, so there’s that)