As I think about July 4th, I spend a moment revisiting things I’ve done to be part of this country—my time in the civil service Navy working on things that that go boom, my time in a private company helping the GDP grow, and (along with Lisa) raising Brigid to be an active part of this generation. I think about people I’ve met and people I’ve worked with. I think about my family and friends. I remember my grandparents and my uncles. In-laws and cousins.
I think about what our country means to us as individuals and as a collective.
And I wonder, you know?
I mean, it’s July 4th and the stock market is going gangbusters, which is what you expect an engine to do when you strip off its regulation and let it run open loop. Employment is up, and wages, too…for a few people, anyway. The vast majority still can’t come up with $500 bucks, or whatever, to deal with an emergency, but who’s counting, right?
We have an incompetent double agent in the White House whose primary joy appears to be pissing off most of the people in the country. His administration is running concentration camps on our borders, and threatening to go Kristallnacht on immigrants across the interior just as soon as he can finish having tanks and missile launchers roll past him as he campaigns for his second term.
The last time this happened in America, the country had a few Republicans in office who finally got shamed into putting an end to it. Today we very clearly don’t.
I realize that, technically, I have just lied in that last paragraph. Not about the Republican congress, who clearly are happy to be not doing their jobs, but in suggesting that this has happened before.
The truth is that we’ve never had this level of purposeful incompetence in the White House, nor a person as clearly owned by foreign interests. At one point I think I’ve said that Donald Trump as a politician is essentially the love child of Archie Bunker and the Joker. I’ve seen nothing to make me change that opinion. On the other hand, we have had our own Kristallnacht in the past—though we call it the Trail of Tears—and our own concentration camps, the most well-known being the Japanese internment of World War II. We have stood by silently while portions of our country lynched people different from them.
Still, when these things come up in conversation, people seem to consider them distant relics that, for purposes of those conversations, should be considered to have never happened. All in the past, they say. Things are different now. So my misstated phrasing should at least appease that viewpoint. At least it’s true that our current concentration camps have not yet morphed into Death Camps. All we’re doing so far is removing kids from their parents and putting everyone in unsanitary jails. Take that for what you will.
As a country, our relationships across the world are in the process of a flip-flop. Friends are now foes and foes are now friends. We have deficits soaring (remember all the people wringing their hands about these things when Obama was in office? Where the hell are they now?). We have a tax cut that transferred huge chunks of cash from poor to rich. We have companies considerably freer to do whatever they want.
I admit I’m not so worried about deficits, but the tax thing … yikes. And I also admit that, having worked for both the federal government and private industry, I’ve never really figured out why a person would want to put power in the hands of a company—whose leaders they can’t touch without a criminal process—rather than a government whose leaders they can vote out of office all by themselves.
It’s almost like folks don’t understand that the government, as fraught with organizational mumbo-jumbo as it is, is actually us. To fear the organization we control is to fear each other. Which is something to think about, right? I mean, it’s July the 4th. We ought to think about things like that. We ought to think about what it means to be a part of a country founded under our ideals. We ought to wonder why we trust a company (whose overtly stated goal is to take more of our money than it costs to make a product) over a government body who we choose and whose stated purpose is to provide the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I mean, making a profit makes the world go around, but do we need to give CEOs the keys to the country in the process?
And, yeah, I know. The government can screw up a lot of things. But, while no one is voting Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg off the island anytime soon, at least we can use the ballot box to hold government leaders directly accountable.
In that light, I note we have an acting cabinet full of people whose purpose is to dismantle the government’s ability to function. Scientists are not being allowed to science. Climate change is being removed from the agenda while polar vortexes, intense flooding, and insane fires cover the US, and June hailstorms put Guadalajara under three feet of ice. We have the most expensive health care system in the world, yet one that can barely function and no longer delivers world-class results even to those with great insurance. The hard right is very soon to bring the full force of their weight onto the government in order to remove women’s rights to their own bodies, and to remove what scant protections the LGBTQ populations have won after having fought so hard.
So, yeah, the world is changing.
To me it’s bending away from what our country was founded upon. But that’s from the viewpoint of a perhaps not-so-slowly aging white guy who at one point thought we were better than maybe we were. I don’t know. Maybe I was just wrong as I grew up. Maybe the mission statement our country was founded on really was meant to be applied only to people who are white and male, like me.
This seems like it should be so simple, though.
Just replace “all men” with “all people,” and make sure that the unstated “white” in that “all men” is removed, and things should be fine. It seems like we should be able to go from there without a whole lot of problems.
Like most things in life, however, it’s complicated.
And like most complicated things, the answers come down to individual people.
As I sit here on July 4th I still believe in that sheet of paper. I still think it’s the right way to be, and I still see the aspirational element behind the idea that all people are created equal. That we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I still think America can be a leader that brings the world together.
But the clock seems to be ticking down on these things.
I’ve been voting since 1980. In my opinion, the 2018 mid-terms were literally the most important elections of my lifetime.
2020 is bigger.
The senate will not allow Donald Trump to be removed from office, so in 2020 the people who theoretically run this country are going to decide whether Trump’s “Fuck You, Everyone For Themselves” manifesto is going to cement itself or not (though perhaps calling what this administration is doing a “manifesto” is to give the approach too much dignity).
Taking away all the dross, though, it’s really that simple.
For better or for worse, that’s how it’s always been. This is America, after all. For now, anyway.
This is up to us.
The 2020 election can’t come too soon. You’ve summed up every fear I have about the current state of the country. I have my preference for the Democratic ticket (Warren/Harris), but if the ballot was right in front of me now and had the choice of “whichever Democrat is running,” I’d push the button.
Everything that you said is sad, but true.
Brilliant piece, Ron. Especially this part:
“It’s almost like folks don’t understand that the government, as fraught with organizational mumbo-jumbo as it is, is actually us. To fear the organization we control is to fear each other.”
Thank you so much for putting it in such clear and uniquely fresh terms.
“At one point I think I’ve said that Donald Trump as a politician is essentially the love child of Archie Bunker and the Joker. I’ve seen nothing to make me change that opinion.”
Brilliant quote. Great post, I agree with it all. Truly painful days we are living in.