Monday, June 6th, 2016
By Reed Galen
Quote by a Smart Person: Mrs. Powel to Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin’s unhesitating response: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Author’s Note: Today is the 72nd anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, more commonly known as D-Day. Normandy is a place of immense beauty, torrential rain and howling wind. The American military cemetery there is a place of overwhelming solemnity and haunting calm. My father (@richgalen) and I visited the battlefields in 2012. You can read my report from that trip here.
We watch images scroll across cable news outlets and see violence outside political rallies, the left scream at the right, the right scream back at the left. Blame for America’s descent — perceived or real — all at the hands of “them.” Responsibility? That’s on the other team. Anger, envy, resentment, these are the currency of modern political discourse in the United States. So whose country is it, anyway?
Older Americans look around and see a world that they could not have envisioned as children or even in middle age. The Cold War, the end of the Cold War, technological revolution, 9/11 and the Great Recession have shaped and reshaped their lives. But as they enter their golden years, the plasticity and desire to handle change are diminished. Their grandchildren are growing up in a world where what happens on their phones is more important than what happens immediately around them. Kids on college campuses ask for “safe spaces” because they don’t like ugly opinions. “You know where I’d have liked a ‘safe space?’ Khe San comes to mind.” The Boomers came up in the roaring 50s and 60s of an America on the rise. An economy growing by leaps and bounds, a middle class expanding rapidly with it. They settle uneasily into their retirement — forced or otherwise and say, “This isn’t my country.”
Their grandchildren have never known a world without war, terrorism and financial instability. In history books they read about the greatness of America. They read about the land of opportunity. But they graduate college with massive debt and a country that sees them collectively as whiny, entitled ingrates. They’re closer to leading the country than they think and many of us can possible imagine. They look around the wreckage of their assumed-to-be-assured futures and say, “This isn’t my country.”
Donald Trump’s supporters go to his rallies because he tells them it’s okay to be angry. Trump channels their frustrations. He tells it like it is. He tells them we need to make America great again. He tells them it’s not their country anymore and they respond, “This isn’t my country!” The Wall Street guys. Washington. The illegal immigrants. The people who take. They’ve changed America, maybe forever. And they’re sick of it.
The anger seethes outside a Trump rally — not at the country, but at The Donald and his supporters. What they stand for is not just an anachronism; it’s downright fascist. And if Trump espouses anger toward those with whom he disagrees, then violence is good enough for the opposition, too. They throw eggs and throw punches. They hear Trump’s words and say, if this what half of Americans believe in, “This isn’t my country.”
Gay marriage and gender-neutral bathrooms. What does it even mean to be a man or a woman? What happened to traditional values — those of walking in the footsteps of the Lord, a mother and a father, and white picket fences? How can a boy feel like he’s a girl? What does that even mean? Now a bunch of judges in Washington tell us not to follow the words of the Bible, but of a Godless government bureaucracy. Church attendance is down. Traditional marriage is dead. They stand up in their pulpit and proclaim, “This isn’t my country!”
What is it about these people clinging to their guns and religion? What is it about Fox News running in all those VFW halls around the country? From Silverlake to Brooklyn, they look up from their flat-whites and Sunday New York Times and shake their head at fly-over country and middle America. Those people aren’t enlightened. What century do they think we’re living in? This is about freedom — who cares who someone marries? What business is it of yours? People are really opposed to equality? If those people get to voice their hateful opinions, “This isn’t my country.”
From one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to another, Washington, DC’s political elite also watch their televisions and shake their heads. After all we’ve done for them, they’re still unhappy. If those people only understood how hard all this is, they would give us the credit we deserve. We take care of them. We take care of our friends in business, in labor, they create the jobs for all these people. But those millions of Trump and Bernie supporters, they want to burn it all down! Well, if that’s what they want, “This isn’t my country.”
For hundreds of years our people have been kept down. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t create equality — or anything like it. The Civil Rights movement was a good start , but now we’re back where we started. For eight years we’ve had a black president, are we better off? Hard to tell. The racist culture of America is as alive and well today as it was in 1965. On campus, in the cities, in our neighborhoods, it’s never been our country. And today, they watch their brothers and sisters and fathers and sons behind bars or gunned down by cops and they march and say in unison, “This isn’t my country.”
They came over the border. They knew it was wrong but they wanted a better life for themselves and their children. Their kids are citizens. Their grandkids are citizens. But now, the message is unmistakable: They’re not welcome. Even if they came legally and followed the rules, more and more people are telling them they don’t belong. They hear that the potential President of the United States wants to send 12 million of them back to where they came from. What are they really trying to say? “This isn’t my country.”
I’ve followed the rules all my life. I work hard, I don’t get ahead. There’s no raise coming my way. People come here from all over the world and what do they do? They take our jobs. They’re a suck on our resources. They get to drive and live their lives just like someone who was born here. Everyday they go to work and people don’t look like they used to. One day they woke up and people spoke Spanish and Chinese and Korean and languages they can’t even pronounce. Maybe one day years ago, America was ours, but now, “This isn’t my country.”
And those tens of millions of Americans who are trying their best to make a life, a more comfortable life in the early 21st century look around and hear nothing but rage and negativity. Must be nice to have all that time to rage against the machine. Most of them are just trying to get by on a salary that hasn’t gone up in years. They have health insurance but they’re always just one disaster away from true financial ruin. It’s harder to keep the family together. It’s hard to watch the Kardashians flashing their bling on one channel and Wall Streeters getting away with murder on another. The left and the right. The white and the black. They’re all pissed off. When did we drift so far. If this is what everyone else is about, “This isn’t my country.”
So whose country is it? We’ve self-selected into our bands of rage. Everyone has a group they can now join to voice their collective complaint. They’re not just mad at the government — but they’re a prime culprit. Washington does too much or it does too little. One this is for sure, it’s not looking out for me, the little guy. Maybe the time of Americans sharing collective purpose is more myth than reality. But if it ever was remotely real, it’s fading more daily. Regardless of who wins an election, too few people believe the system will do what it is supposed to. If it’s not your country, or your country, or her country, or their country than what’s the point of all these tussle and noise?
Anger is easy — it requires not thought. We’re full of ire and woefully short of much else. It’s not your country? It better be. For all its troubles, it’s still the freest place on Earth. Want to fight for something? Fight to find a way to keep America the country that’s been a beacon of freedom for generations. Either get busy fixing it or reroute that anger into something productive. Bitching and moaning? We don’t have time for it. We’re on the clock. Don’t believe me? That’s fine. It’s only the Republic. Can we keep it?