Posts Tagged ‘ America ’

Tarnished City on a Hill

shining-city

What the f*** just happened?

Whatever way you lean politically, I think we can safely agree that no one—no one—expected this. Even the most staunch Trump supporter didn’t expect him to actually win. They hoped for it, but they couldn’t have known.

So what the f***?

I will attempt to explain to the best of my limited knowledge. My aim is to wrap my arms around this gorilla, not pass judgment. I want to point out the divide in the hope that folks standing on either side of it might hesitantly wave at each other instead of throwing rocks back and forth. The anger is real, I get that, and throwing rocks can feel damn good. But let us take a peek at who we are aiming at.

There are many, many reasons behind why a person casts a vote. Were there true blue bigots who gleefully filled in the bubble next to Trump’s name? Sure. Were there smug liberal elitists voting for Hillary’s inevitable coronation from the safety of their ivory towers? A few. Those voters are not my subject. There are voters who vote primarily for cultural reasons and those whose concern is mostly economical, and those are the ones I’d like to look at.

Back in “the day,” cultural concerns—what a candidate felt personally about social issues, reproductive rights, religious values, civil rights, etc.–were considered secondary. Candidates always had to prove their “integrity,” but it was rarely what got them elected. “What will you do for me?” was the main criteria, not “Do your values match my own?” Enter the old-school, disenfranchised, mostly white, working class voter from the heartland and the rust belt. They have seen their jobs sent overseas. They have seen their worry for their future and security ignored. Many voted for Obama at least once, with the hope that his promised buoy would lift all ships. It didn’t. Their anger is real. Their fear is real. As I heard brilliantly posed on a radio show recently, their fear is not new—many groups in this country have spent generations being marginalized—but it is new to them.

So here comes Bernie talking directly to their concerns. And there he goes, ushered out the door by the media, the DNC, and ultimately tone-deaf Democratic voters. Who will look out for my best interests now? Where do I vent my anger? Which candidate will allow me to keep my job and put food on my table? We know the answer to that now. Not the status-quo candidate who lumped me in with the rest of the “deplorables.” I’m going for the guy who wants to restrict global trade, keep American jobs in America, stop the flood of immigrants I need to compete with, and give me back some damn pride for a change.

Are these voters racist, xenophobic, and reactionary? No. They are mostly white people voting in their own economic self-interests. Cultural concerns about Trump’s hateful rhetoric may have been considered, but in the end what he said on a talk show eleven years ago or his batshit crazy wall-building talk were not the deciding factor. My job, my family, my vote. Self-preservation. A tale as old as time. If you want to know why conservative Christians, some African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and above all female voters could possibly vote for a candidate like Donald Trump, here it is: the rhetoric didn’t matter. Their jobs did.

And was there also a giant middle finger to the celebrities and the millennials and the smug “liberals” who underestimated their anger? Sure, why not. If you couldn’t be bothered to listen to me screaming for eight years, here ya go, suck on this. He probably won’t win no matter what I do anyway. These are the voters now telling Hillary supporters, “Get over it! I had to live through Obama for eight years.” They see the palpable fear of minorities as a gross overreaction. In their hearts they did what any sane person in their situation would do, the simple, pragmatic thing—they used the vote they had to ensure their livelihoods.

So let’s look across the divide at the Hillary supporters. For a voter who values cultural issues—economic justice, civil rights, marriage equality, Black Lives Matter, gun control, et al.—Hillary was never a perfect fit. She was a little too invested in big business and its unending fountain of political funding to be believed as a progressive crusader. The way Bernie was treated by the Democratic establishment left a bad taste. But most of these voters relented when Bernie pushed his chips in with hers, and began to get excited by her shiny, new progressive agenda. Then they looked at her opponent and saw every idealistic dream they had for their country turned utterly on its head. They saw intolerance, misogyny, xenophobia, hatred—the worst, basest underbelly this country has to offer. They saw minorities being punched in the face, the end of religious freedom, women being grabbed and assaulted, spewing, venomous anger toward themselves and their underrepresented friends. And Hillary–uninspiring, hard-working, smart-as-a-whip policy wonk Hillary—didn’t seem like a bad choice after all. In fact, she seemed to be the only sane choice. How could anyone support that man and all he stood for?

And here’s where it gets a little poetic. Culturally, the past decade or so felt like a series of wins. Our first African-American president. Gay marriage. Outrage at the deaths of unarmed Black men. The acknowledgment of violence against women. Online movements for equality and solidarity. It felt like being on the precipice of a new country where inclusion and fairness were valued. And then—the first female President of the United States seemed to be a looming reality. Don’t underestimate the importance of the narrative of improvement and evolution to these folks. It is the reason their hearts are authentically broken today. They are the people who see in this country the possibility of the shining city on a hill. There is no American dream without these people dreaming it into existence.

To them, the election of Donald Trump feels like a repudiation. The back of the hand given to uppity women, minorities, gays, Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans. A punishment. A death. They feel unsafe, now that the thin veneer of acceptable behavior seems to have eroded like the ozone layer, and they worry for the safety of others. They look around them and see Germany in the 1930s. And some will roll their eyes at that. But just like with the unheard, disenfranchised heartlander, the anger and fear are real. And for the non-white, the violence seems frighteningly imminent.

And then there’s the dream deferred. The specter of a demagogue, backed by a Republican Congress and Supreme Court, hurling us back into the cultural dark ages, rolling back all the progress we’ve made, killing the dream of equality and reproductive rights for women, equal educational opportunity, affordable health care, racial healing, LGBTQ rights. To understand the depth of disappointment these voters are experiencing right now, you have to understand the dream they feel slipping away.

So here we are. No claims of “racist voters” are going to change this. No amount of “get over its” are going to make the grieving process easier. There is endless invective on each side, endless reasons to revel in your rightness or curse your oppressor. The rabbit hole has opened up and swallowed us. And we can take the long view, say that this open wound between us will eventually close over and heal. And that is very true. But it doesn’t help us here and now. All that can help us now is empathy. If we can maybe, maybe take a step back and see each other as human beings instead of profile pictures. If we can make simple commitments to try to understand those who disagree with us, even when that disagreement runs far and deep. If we can come to the common conclusion that whatever our political bent, we need to be vigilant in the support of the powerless and unheard among us. It will be hard, maybe the hardest thing the country has done since WWII. Families will turn against each other, fights will erupt, opportunists will use this as an chance to turn us hateful and resentful and violent. I won’t be able to hold my tongue myself, especially in the face of prejudice. Nor should we. If we are who we say we are, Trump and Hillary voters alike, Americans, people with anger and fear and dreams and pragmatism, we will not stand for it. Let that be our common ground: protection. If…

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My Country, In Sickness and in Health…

OK, I’m feeling marginally better a week after my foray to the ER. The headache has retreated to a dull roar and the stomach pains hurt, like the Neil Simon title, only when I eat. That’s it for the medical update—the minute this blog turns into a blow by blow of my abdominal pain, I’ll roll it up like a carpet and leave it by the side of the road.

Had an interesting chat with my home nurse while she was changing my PICC dressing. She used to be a floor nurse, back in the day when that position was little more than indentured servitude to the hospital you worked for in the guise of a “training program”. The nursing industry managed to get out from under the thumb of the hospitals, from what I could gather, while student doctors are still expected to put in insanely long, sleep-deprived hours in order to keep their spot in the program. What they are preparing doctors for, exactly, I have never been sure. I mean a doctor, especially a surgeon, has to have great powers of concentration and physical stamina. But I don’t think they’ve ever had to work twenty-eight hours, sleep for fifteen minutes, then have somebody shove them awake and throw a scalpel in their hand to perform an appendectomy. The conclusion we came to was inevitable I suppose—students are cheap labor and when it comes right down to it a hospital is a business. Businesses make money. If they happen to give you good care as a patient, good for you. If not, go find another hospital, because the bed you’re in is waiting for another insured patient. Good things are done in hospitals, don’t get me wrong, by dedicated, good people. But your well-being is not why the bricks and mortar were laid, that’s all.

Anyway. We continued to talk about how someone in my situation might fare in a different country, with a different government and a different health care system. The conclusion was not well. There are holes all over the system we’re currently in, and I’ve lived through many of them. For better or worse what insurance will cover is meant to keep a patient stable, not really get them better—by that I mean they will not pay for anything exploratory when sometimes that is exactly the kind of imaginative medicine that is needed. Also, in this age of specialization, there is little or no coordination of care. I have a different doctor for my stomach, my blood, my nutrition, my headaches, my depression and my general health, and none of them would know each other if they were in line at a grocery store. Each one is primarily concerned about their own specialty, so if you happen to have an illness that involves multiple systems you’re spit out of luck. It’s like going to a restaurant and having to order each element of your meal from a different waitress. Then if the steak is undercooked and the corn is cold you have to send them back to two different cooks in different kitchens. Start calculating your odds on this meal turning out well.

But it could be worse. I paid into this system that is now supporting me since I was sixteen. There were years when I contributed more than others, but for the most part I was a steady customer. A few years ago it was decided between my doctor and the government that I was physically incapable of working, so I became part of a controversial safety net in this country. When some people hear “disability”, they hear “lazy”, “scam-artist”, “fraud”, etc. I’m sure there are those people out there—hell, I’ve known some of those people who want nothing more than to milk whatever they can out of the system. I had to overcome that notion of myself, since I was always the type who didn’t want to take a nickle from anybody. It’s quite a blow when you realize than not only will you be taking that nickle, you’ll be taking enough to keep your family’s head above water every month. And the whole world can tell you rationally that you paid into it, that this is what the system was made for, that if you were healthy you wouldn’t need it so it’s a just a matter of necessity. You still feel like a beggar.

But if the worst thing I have to deal with is a blow to my ego, I can take it. I have little choice, really. In another country we’d be living on the street. My son asked me if I’m still proud to be American, even though other countries see us as greedy, fat and militaristic—he didn’t say those exact words, but that was the gist. I was actually very proud of HIM for asking such a thought-provoking question. I told him that yes I am still proud, that even with all our sins we are still the greatest, most free country in the world. It’s hard sometimes to be an American when we rush to war without purpose, or fail to care for those among us who need the most. The difference between the haves and have-nots is deep and wide, and it is a source of embarrassment to me that we can’t handle that disparity better. The line between democracy and capitalism has blurred, and the notion of public responsibility seems to have been dealt a death-blow because of it. It scares me what we’ve become, what we’ve devolved into.

Yet, out of nowhere we go and elect an African-American president, and people start to care again, or at least it seems that way. Politics in this country will always be frustrating, and change will always come slowly, but it does come after much hand-wringing, hair-pulling and sometimes awful behavior. And like I said, a person in my situation might not fare nearly as well in most health-care systems. I owe the well-being of my family to the fact that I am an American, and that is a loyalty I find hard to dismiss.  Perhaps that’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s honest.

Opening Day–Our National Holiday

The Mets home park, Citifield.

Today is a time-honored rite of American life, one of the few of the BS, jingoistic trappings I actually adhere to. It’s baseball’s Opening Day. Baseball has its detractors, and for many good causes. Yes, the game was juiced for about fifteen years and all of its most hallowed records were beaten by cheaters. Yes, for those who don’t have the patience for the nuances of the game, it can seem like a three hour exercise in tedium. Yes, the money is so out of whack that ¾ of the teams don’t have a snowball’s chance in Miami of winning a pennant coming out of spring training. Granted.

But still. There is an anticipation of this day that is unlike any other sport. There’s the whole hopeful “everyone is tied for first place” cliche—but the truth is deeper than that. It has to do with fathers and mothers having a catch with sons and daughters. It’s watching your child swinging a whiffle bat at an oversized ball and praying for contact. It’s buying a mitt for their first birthday. There’s a connection that transcends logic and exists as pure feeling. Teaching a game that was taught to you, that was taught to your father by your grandfather, whose father taught it to him. It is sentimental? Absolutely. But it’s also real. Grown men playing a game that we played, with the same rules, the same necessary skills, the same pressures and in some cases the same joy.

We are a country that rejected its father figure, a remote king who was aloof and didn’t care for us the way we thought he should. As a country we are probably somewhere in our early twenties—past our awkward stage, our rebellious stage, but still young and headstrong. We’re struggling to identify our values, to separate acting manly from being a man, to assume a sense of responsibility to those around us. In many aspects we still have a ways to go before we can safely call ourselves grown.

Baseball is not a perfect model for achieving maturity, but it’s one of the few we have that crosses all boundaries. It is a game where the young are mentored by the older coaches and players. It’s a game where white Irish fans in Boston root their hearts out for athletes from Venezuela and Santo Domingo and where whites, African Americans, Latinos and Japanese compete on equal footing. It’s a game that honors its veterans and its elder statesmen. On the other hand it is a ruthlessly competitive game, and one that sometimes piles unreachable expectations and pressures on its youngest players, who exist in a fishbowl of media criticism. There is a huge discrepancy between the teams that have and those that have not. Those drawbacks sound awfully familiar.

But while Opening Day can be a time to reflect on the past, it is also a day that is relentlessly in the moment. The drama is happening right now, unfolding right in front of us. There’s no time limit, and the winning team has to get that last out to win. There are never any guarantees. Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, watch athletes do what we endeavor to do in our backyards and Little League parks. There is a shared language, a shared set of rules, a shared passion. People who wouldn’t be able to talk to each other about anything else can talk about what’s going on on that green, green ballfield. No matter the weather, the skies are blue.

In 1986, the year my Mets won the World Series, I had just turned 16 when Opening Day came around. I declared it a personal holiday and stayed home from school to watch the game. Another time I had just gotten back from a surgery and was trying to sleep in a recliner because I couldn’t climb the stairs to our bedroom. I couldn’t sleep well, so I was awake when the Mets played their opening game in Japan at five in the morning. Opening Day is a day of beginnings, a harbinger of Spring and a promise of the summer that is sure to follow. It is the resumption of a friendship that retreats with the onset of cold weather and comes back in the thaw. It’s as American as President’s Day or Labor Day or Veteran’s Day or Independence Day. Opening Day is our unofficial national holiday. For those of you who feel as I do, happy Opening Day. I hope you have people to share it with.