One of the more inane rallying cries of the tea partiers, Obama-haters and conservative wingnuts — and, really, that’s saying something — is that they want “their” country back. Back from what or from whom, well, they never quite say it out loud, or how exactly it is that this country supposedly differs from the one, say, before January 20, 2009, but somehow we’re all both supposed to recognize the difference and give them the benefit of the doubt that the “us” and “them” in their rhetoric isn’t a racial dividing line, despite the fact that the Democratic party predates the Republican party in America by several decades and, despite all their caterwauling, it seems like capitalism indeed remains intact.
They inevitably have some rhetorical hard-on for Constitutional principles, but they’re maybe a little less keen on the Preamble (which likely gives many of them more credit than they deserve for ever having read the whole thing). But this is why the Founding Fathers said they were creating the United States government:
form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity
Welfare, justice, domestic tranquility and liberty for everyone. Noble principles, to which each day too many white Americans do a disgusting disservice.
Down in Arizona, at the behest of a conservative talk radio host/local elected official, adults were driving by a f***ing elementary school shouting racial epithets at the African-American and Latino children therein. Instead of enjoying the political spectacle that is a good sex scandal, an elected member of the South Carolina Senate referred to Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley and President Obama by a different racial slur. Membership in white supremacist groups is supposedly up, as are threats against the President. Arizona passed a law that makes a cop’s suspicion that someone isn’t a legal resident of the United States a legal reason to detain them, and the proponents swore that cops could just “tell” who isn’t a legal resident and who is a legal resident based on something other than skin color. For reals, they said, you just know.
In the country I grew up in, there weren’t any caveats to “with liberty and justice for all.” The Declaration of Independence said that it was a self-evident truth that all men were created equal, and the Supreme Court held before I was born that “men” actually meant “people.” We passed amendments to our Constitution to rectify the historic and nauseating injustice that was the three-fifths “compromise” to our Constitution more than 100 years before I was born. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, called this “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” This is supposedly the land of equal opportunity, to which immigrants from all over the world have turned their eyes since its inception and said, “There, I can go and build something for myself,” and here they came, waves upon waves of immigrants until we (with some help) erected a statue and placed upon it an invocation:
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We constantly hold out America as a promise to other governments and other citizens of what liberty and democracy can bring, and then when they arrive, too many of us who have never and will never stray far afield from the towns in which we grew up hold them in contempt for wanting the better life here that we said they could have. People die trying to reach our shores, or our deserts, just to have the opportunity to work and receive some sort of recompense, and we take their labor and pay them their pittance and then allow and sometimes even inveigh upon our government to hunt them down and send them away for their trouble.
The America I grew up in was one in which yelling racial epithets at school children was supposed to be a horrific part of a shameful past that we should acknowledge, rectify and strive not to relive. It was one in which we acknowledged that the safe haven many of our ancestors found on these shores came at a terrible price for the people who already lived here and to whom our founding fathers did unspeakable things. It was one that required a terrible, hypocritical compromise that forced us to betray the very principles of liberty and justice for which those founding fathers swore this country stood and that we’ve only managed to rectify in fits and starts and never quite lived down. It was one that strove to provide that equality of opportunity to everyone, and that, despite our imperfect beginnings, could and would in my lifetime live up to those promises.
I’ll be 33 at the end of this year. I’m afraid every day that we draw further away from the America, or at least the dream of America, that I grew up with — the one in which we held it self-evident that all people are created equal. I want my country back, assholes — the one you seem to be striving to recreate isn’t the America we had eight years ago, or 20, it’s one that never really existed the way you think it did and was really a gross perversion of the ideals that America represents. If you think life long ago was some sort of Rockwell painting that you’re longing to get back to, well, I’ve got some Rockwell for you. Guess what? You’re right, your protests have brought us there. And it’s sickening.
[First image Creative Commons Licensed via Kevin Copps on Flickr. Second image, “The Problem We All Live With” by Norman Rockwell, which pictures Ruby Bridges. Her walk to integrate an elementary school in New Orleans was beset by racists who, every day, yelled racial epithets and hurled tomatoes at her. The incident was also chronicled in Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, which is worth reading for his revulsion at this side of America.]