Politics and other awkward stuff

When A Shining City — Goes Dark.

Image courtesy of drnadig, iStock Photo

America seems to have lost its way.  At the very least, it forgot its way to the fuse box. Once a beacon for democracy, the last years of batshit crazy political insanity has cause a giant power outage. Suddenly, keeping the lights on in that iconic city on the hill is in serious question.

The last years have dimmed a lot of America’s radiance. Do we shine in our ability to keep our people safe? Nope. In healthcare, we place 170th in infant mortality, spend twice than most developed nations in medical care yet have fewer doctors and fewer hospital beds per capita. We place 125th among nations in literacy, and have the 81st highest murder rate, including the most guns anywhere! We’re number one in debt, in GNP, defense spending, and the economy — but only if you count the illustrious 1%.

“In my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” Ronald Reagan’s vision of America.

Maybe we were once less than shiny but at least we were uber idealistic. We loved the IDEA that we were better than we are, special, entitled. President Reagan stated that ‘the Shining City Upon a Hill’ was a utopia, divinely bestowed by God on the worthy. The term has been used by presidents and politicians ever since to illustrate their vision of America. We’ve been led to believe that we are on a special mission from God to spread democracy throughout the world, which might be a good plan – if we could practice and hold on to it ourselves.

Though Ronald Reagan didn’t invent the lofty phrase, he did make good use of it. The poetic vision of a radiant city actually originated in a 17th century Puritan sermon by early Boston governor, John Winthrop. His concept was not to taunt Europe with America’s greatness’ but as a na-na-na-nana refute to Catholics about Protestantism. Who knew? To them, it was less a place than an idea regarding Christianity, which morphed through the decades into ethnic exclusion, enslavement and social superiority.

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people will be upon us.”  John Winthrop, Governor of Boston

Protectors of early democracy were also complicit their carelessness of it. Early settlers were no strangers to slavery, religious intolerance or their own conspiracies. (Do the Salem Witch Trials ring a bell?) Even as we told ourselves we believed the best in each other, we decimated the original American peoples, elbowing them to the side as we made this place our own. And of course we needed help building it, so we shipped in cargos of humans from another continent, excusing our travesty through generations as right and just. Many still do.

Through generations past, we were afraid that evil lurked in every corner, ready to spirit the country away to the dark side, when we ourselves had a lot to spare. Today both little — and everything has changed. Instead of banning together for common cause, we are splintered and divided by wealth, race and ideology. White identity has co-opted large segments of our culture. Fueled by political fevers, it has given birth to crazed conspiracy theories that once would have shocked us in their bizarre idiocy. Instead, we now watch as belief multiplies in the bringing back of the ‘true’ America, comprised of prejudice, entitlement, banned books and twisted history.

In the past, every successive group of immigrants was ‘welcomed’ to our shoreseven as none escaped their time in the barrel. Neither culture, religion, color of skin or variation of language spared them from often violent discrimination. But nothing in our American history has been as blatant, or filled with dangerous mass hypnosis and hysteria over complete untruths, as what we are living through right now.

We’ve survived war, both on our soil and across the pond, yet now face enemies from within, often our own neighbor. The threat is so insidious, it grows in plain sight of our rose colored glasses. Conspiracy theories proliferate about cabals, satanism and the return of JFK, while we ignore clear and present danger of conscious insanity. When encouraged violence escalates every day, in both overt and subtle ways throughout this land, destruction of our lofty experiment may hit its mark. And, if it does, our American Democracy will finally twist into a bizarre holograph of itself, living only in wistful memory.

“All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort — a sustained effort — to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.” Barack Obama

How we can still insist we are a ‘nation under God’, I can’t imagine. I imagine He’s none too pleased at the moment. Sanctimonious people, spouting His name, while acting ANYTHING but ‘Christian’ must piss Him off a tad. Yet, we continue, even escalate our prejudice, and unconscionable policies. We encourage homegrown militias to fight fellow citizens on behalf of a lie of giant proportions and its originator. I may be crazy but wouldn’t it seem a bit more sensible to make some peaceful renovations, rather than gut the entire democracy and take it down to the studs?

Is American still a beacon, as Reagan once said, to ‘all who must have freedom‘ or just a mirage? As a country, we throw more shade than shine today and, right now, the world stands witness to the crisis, not the triumph of America. The pandemic, inflation, and chaos of a former leader, hell bent on keeping office by any means, demands at least several nervous bags of popcorn. In the end, there’s nothing magical about a shining city. It doesn’t light itself.  It can only glow by the good will, morals and cooperation of its inhabitants.

Please keep the lights on, peeps.

“Because for all our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone. That’s always been our story. We are big and vast and diverse; a nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, different experiences and stories, but bound by our shared ideal that no matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off, or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny.” Supreme Court on Marriage Equality

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