This is Real America

The last time I was truly proud of my country was in the days following September 11th, 2001. For every shattering update as another obliterated body pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, for every news program that slavered ghoulishly over photos of victims falling from the sky, there were uplifting stories of people who stood in line for hours to donate blood, who took leaves of absence from their jobs so they could assist in search and rescue efforts, who brought cases of water and coffee to firefighters and medics, who offered support in any way they had available. It was the first time in my lifetime that I had seen such a widespread display of love, support and comfort, and I was moved to tears many times over the beauty of it. That was the very best of America, and it made me proud.

Then we entered what I took to calling the “Freedom Fries Era,” a long, painfully embarrassing period where we set about systematically destroying our relationship with nearly every other country in the world, in some half-crocked notion of “protection.” We alienated, slandered and self-righteously refused assistance from other world leaders, always insisting that we knew what was best and didn’t need anybody else’s help, goddammit. We were like someone’s alcoholic father, breaking shit, humilating ourselves and making a lot of people miserable, yet the more it became apparent that we were falling apart, the more we dug our heels in and refused to see it. We were told that to be good, conscientious Americans meant spying on your neighbors, particularly the brown ones who worship a non-Christian god. We were encouraged to fear and loathe those who were different than us, because it kept us safe somehow. We took a huge step back in race relations, religious freedom and foreign policy. How the past seven years hasn’t consisted of one September 11th after another is truly a miracle.

As much as I latched onto Barack Obama and what an epic moment it would be in American history if he were elected president, I remained at best cautiously optimistic up until the very end. Sure, his chances of winning looked good. had him projected to win for weeks. Yet there were an awful lot of naysayers who insisted that young people were just not as interested in the election as was previously thought, that middle to upper-class whites thought their incomes were in danger from Obama’s tax plan (as if they weren’t in danger in the first place), that if blacks were going to flock to Obama then women were going to flock to Sarah Palin. There was talk of voter fraud weeks in advance, not to mention John McCain’s ominous “guarantees” of victory. The message was clear: “Don’t break out the champagne yet, something could go wrong.”  Most importantly, we had basic human stupidity working against us. There is a dishearteningly large amount of people stupid enough to buy into the ignorant, racist filth spread around against the Obama campaign. They didn’t understand the ludicrousness of accusing Obama of being both secretly a Muslim and having ties to a radical Christian church. They honestly believed that his tax plan means that people can just quit their jobs and let others support them. The notion of siphoning funds to programs and people in need was suddenly un-American. You’d think these people wouldn’t be capable of finding their way into a pair of pants every morning, and yet they somehow know how to operate a voting booth.

The worst part is, they’ve never been encouraged to enlighten themselves. It’s no longer a big deal to be stupid, in fact, it’s kind of charming. Celebrities have based their entire careers on being stupid, vapid, useless wastes of flesh, with every stupid thing they say or do immortalized in the media while the rest of us cringe in embarassment and wonder what the rest of the world must think. “Redneck culture” is celebrated, because that’s where “real America” is, in the trailer parks and shitty dive bars, while smart, educated people are sneered at for thinking they’re just a little bit better than everybody else. It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but that’s the way it is, and stupidity, especially when combined with fear, is terrifyingly powerful. So you’ll have to understand that up until Ohio was secured in Obama’s favor last night, I still thought it was possible that some terrible upset could occur, and America would once again allow itself to be an object of pity and derision. We’d have no one to blame but ourselves.

Even once the whole thing was called, just four hours after I had cast my own vote, with my daughter’s hands covering mine as we pulled the lever together, I couldn’t bring myself to gloat with pride. If anything, I think I probably looked a little like Admiral Ackbar when the Imperial fleet was destroyed at the end of Return of the Jedi: stunned, relieved and profoundly grateful.

Of course, the news of Obama’s victory is tinged with bittersweetness. It seems that while America is ready to say “Yes, we can!” to the notion of electing a black president, it also shouts a resounding “No, you can’t!” at gays who want to legally marry their partners. This is so beyond my scope of reason that I don’t even know how to address it. It’s to “protect the children” they say, apparently from the idea that love doesn’t recognize gender, and that everyone should be allowed to experience the joys and pains of married life. It’s to preserve the sanctity of marriage, because we straight people have been doing such a great job of that already. All I’ve heard is a lot of empty rhetoric, the same kind that kept Sarah Palin afloat for three idiot months, words that when strung together in a certain order sound like they mean something, but really don’t. In this case, sadly, fear and ignorance won. We can only hope for so much.

Because I am still above all cynical, and I tend to expect the worst from my fellow man, I would not be surprised if the election of the first black president of the United States will result in a surge of hate crime. There is no doubt in my mind that lines will be redrawn between blacks and whites and rich and poor. I await the next four years with great hope, but an almost equal amount of trepidation. God only knows what people are capable of when they feel they’ve been wronged, when they truly believe they’re about to have something important taken away from them. But right now, today, I can’t dwell on that too much. I’m still trying to parse the hugeness of this moment. I’m still enjoying this rare surge of pride that twice moved me to tears last night, and my gratitude for the reminder of what it means to live in America, my home, my land of opportunity.



…now what the hell am I going to write about?



One Response to “This is Real America”

  1. afrankangle Says:

    You’ve stated your position very well. Governor Palin visited her version of Real America and the ticket embraced Joe the Plumber, as their Real American icon. Meanwhile, they embraced an image of 60 years ago while ignoring subsequent changes in society.

    Last night was both historical and moving. Senator Obama’s speech was passionate and real. Senator McCain did his best speech of the campaign and much to the dismay of may of his partisans, he demonstrated a real meaning of Country First.

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