A moment

[Note: I started this post right after Charlotteville but kept holding back on sharing it as I worried I was rambling too much and missing facts and in general not making sense but I still feel the need to share so here it is.]

I often struggle to put into words what I feel at times like this. I tend to keep politics off this blog but every once in awhile, I feel the need to comment. I have a hard time saying what I want to say though articulately and in a way that doesn’t just sound like an impassioned outburst of emotions rather than something thought through logically with facts. But I’m not sure I can do that for this one.

A woman died over the weekend. She was my exact age. She died because she was standing up and speaking out when she saw something was not right. I wish I was more like her. I find myself often tongue tied with the current state of affairs. So sunk in rage and depression and shame I retweet articles rather than write my own. Others seem to be much better equipped to say what I feel in my heart and know in my mind. But if she could do it, stand in the actual face of the problems of our country, the least I can do is write about it from my safe desk in my safe apartment.

This is not normal. John Oliver asked us to remember that after the election last year. I find I say it to myself daily as I watch the news, read the tweets and watch in disbelief as our country becomes the worst parody of itself. America and its democracy have always been a double edged sword; freedom of speech means freedom for everyone, even those you would spend your life screaming about how wrong they are. But you can scream and so can they. It is when one side begins to take action to limit the other from speaking that we have our problem. However, in the case of Charlotteville, unlike our president’s opinion apparently, I stand firmly in the camp that that sort of speech, the speech meant to incite hatred and violence, is wrong and should not be protected. There are very clear sides in this case and only one side that is right. We have fought wars, American men and women have died, over this sort of hate and now it’s apparently being tolerated by our administration on our own soil.

I find I must admit I just do not have it in me to understand. How can you have that much hatred for people you have never met simply because they look or believe something different from you? How can this group of people, arguably the most privileged in the world, feel that disenfranchised? That under attack? That scared? I know I come from an extreme place of privilege, the one tick against me being my gender, so I always try to remember that as I process things like this. But no, I’m sorry, there can only be one response which is both logical and emotional…THIS. IS. WRONG.

Wrong on so many levels, I cannot begin to delineate them. These are people who are living their lives, trying to raise their families and move ahead in the world, same as you and me. They have done nothing to you. The problem is not them, it is you and whatever twisted path you walked to come to this point. I am sure you have excuses. They are lame. This behavior is inexcusable and perhaps worst of all to you, un-American. We are supposed to be the land of the free, the home of the brave. The land that takes in those who cannot find refuge elsewhere. Our country would not be what it is today without the many immigrants and outcasts that have found a place to call home on our shores. This used to be something we celebrated. When did it become something we were ashamed of, something we wanted to forgot or actively denounce? In making that reputation for ourselves, we made mistakes. We have never been as free as we liked the world to think. There have always been caveats. We’ve closed our doors to certain groups out of fear, bigotry, pride in the past and we’re doing so again. Perhaps what history should teach us better than most is there is no closing the door. No going back to an isolated existence. The world is at our doorstep and the doorbell is going to keep ringing.

Ironic in many ways that those who marched this weekend may be descendants of those who were once shunned as immigrants in those earlier waves. Those greeted with signs of “No Irish.” My ancestors were. What happened over the weekend was about more than immigrants or racism or gender or religion or sexual preference. It was about a bunch of people who are scared and therefore want to make sure everyone else is scared with them. That fear and ignorance and willful hatred helped last November happen. So, I will not be scared. I will be angry that we allowed this to happen and fight to make sure we do better, that we are better. But I will not let them scare me. They are wrong and they will not win.

American Vertigo

From Tower Books

I originally picked up this book to cover my travel category for the library summer challenge but it’s actually ended up being my political one as the book is a combination of travel journal, philosophical discourse, and examination of the state of American political culture. It was a bit more than I was expecting when I picked it off the library shelf. It was also one of the most challenging books I have read in a long time. I spent a lot of time with the dictionary for this one.

Levy is interesting; at the same time he is a post-modern French philosopher who is not writing for the average person. He is writing for a very specific audience. American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville was commissioned by The Atlantic. Yet, Levy does a good job in the travel journal part of the book of making his observations interesting and approachable. He makes an effort to touch every aspect of our culture in each stop he makes. He clearly finds Americans fascinating and not at all living up to our reputation in Europe. He points out oddities that we as a culture don’t notice: the prevalence of the flag in all things, our very conservative culture that also supports seemingly supports sex industries, our fanatical politically correct practices that also mask some of the things still wrong in our country like poverty, backdoor racism and a broken social welfare system that may or may not exist depending on who you talk to.  It was so interesting to look at America through the eyes of a foreigner, someone who knows our history but doesn’t know us as we see ourselves.

That said, you have to work for this book when you read it. Levy is a philosopher. He writes like one so you go in circles sometimes and often by the time he gets to the point, you’ve forgotten where he started. He’s more likable in the travel journal parts like I said; in the Reflections section of the book, I had to really slow down and take my time to understand the points Levy is trying to make about American political culture and perhaps what might come next for our society, for the original Great Experiment, that Levy sees as in crisis with itself and its role in the new century. It is a book to make you think, to make you ask how much has changed since he published it five years ago (hint: I found it still extremely relevant) and how much further we as a country have gone in either of the directions Levy lays out. Have we started to correct the stagnant nature of a society that is dealing with its greatest challenge, success? Or have we continued to flounder, still reeling from an attack that happened ten years ago and the aftermath we’re still cleaning up?

Levy gets into a lot of political theory trying to justify why he thinks America is still working but is heading towards a crisis if it doesn’t watch its step. I will be honest, I didn’t follow all of it but I think for the most part, I would have to agree with him. We are a nation that seems to be ripping at the seams in terms of what we value and how we value it. We don’t so much have political discussion as political scandals and arguments. It seems to me finding the middle ground is becoming the major challenge with more and more people being absolute. Compromise seems to be the exception, rather than the rule. Religion seems to be dragged into things more and more, or at least it seems to me. Or perhaps, I am just paying attention more than I used to. Perhaps I have finally wised up to the great American myth of the separation of Church and State. It worries me. Levy points out all the places the things I take pride in the most are in danger. Freedom of religion, speech…freedom of choice. The idea of individualism, of following the rules and being rewarded. The idea of the frontier, hard work – the so called “good words” that need no definition when you use them.

So, like I said, one of the hardest and most challenging books I have read in a while and I enjoyed its content if not its style. One must always enjoy a book that makes you think and question the world around you.