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.

Continue reading “When A Shining City — Goes Dark.”
Politics and other awkward stuff

Across the GREAT Divide

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History is a funny thing. Depending on the glasses it’s viewed with, the past is either chock full of not so great things or colored with a romantically soft blur. Me? I think it’s a little of both. History is life, with all its ups and downs, no matter how we’d like to retouch it. Graphic designers like me are cool with that kind of artistic license but history needs no retouched brand marketing. It is what it is.

The words ‘great again’ in relation to America have now become part of our daily lexicon. They are heard nearly every day and are pretty much guaranteed to echo through the next few years whether with hope or huh?  They are meant to be a bold yet nostalgic rallying cry. Each time I hear the phrase I find myself scratching my head. I can’t seem to nail down the period in history when our American lives were perfect enough, great enough for an encore.

If a handy time machine could transport us to the past, where exactly would we land? What era would our GPS point to? Would we be whisked back to the time we helped our entitled selves to the land of the true Native Americans, elbowing them out of the way? Or when we bought, sold, traded slaves to build a spanking new country where WE could be free? Maybe it was those scary days when we were kids and the Cold War sent us scurrying beneath our desks. Those good ol’ days also included ‘colored’ drinking fountains, gays who were forced to remain in the closet – and women in the kitchen.

I’m in advertising. I know snappy taglines sell things but I’m just having a problem wrapping my head around a ‘great again’ marketing slogan. I can’t seem to pinpoint the glorious golden age when all, regardless of color or gender were peaceful and happy.  Is our country truly great? You bet. But in a country of more than 318 million people of every diversity, having ups and downs, even in a single day, is part of the deal. It doesn’t make us less great; it makes great more fluid.

I’m old enough (not ancient, mind you) to have lived through several wars, from Vietnam and the Gulf War to Iran and Iraq. Living in a different time and different skin, I never experienced Jim Crow laws that brutalized a whole portion of our fellow Americans. They were the citizens sent to the back of the bus, and denied use of the same restrooms and drinking fountains as their white neighbors. As a woman, I was lucky enough not to have lived in a time when I couldn’t vote because of my ‘weaker’ sex. I was a young mom by the time Roe vs Wade signaled the end of back-alley abortions and same sex relations were taken off the list of criminal offenses. Our land of opportunity didn’t always gift those opportunities to everyone. For many — it still doesn’t. Continue reading “Across the GREAT Divide”