American Hostage: A Foothold Situation

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canstockphoto32473828There is a moment in each day now when I imagine the decimation of my country. I grew up with the idea that America represented ethics and values that I could get behind. I didn’t always agree with politicians or administrations, but I respected that it was an honorable thing to serve this country. My eyes watered hearing The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. I put my hand on my heart and believed that there was something of which we could be proud.

When I was in high school, I went to state speech contest with a fiery “The Loss of American Patriotism: Where Are the Voters?” I spent hours listening to the comedian, Rich Little, do presidential impressions. I loved learning about government and American history, reading the biographies of the men and women who shaped this country.

I joined the US Army near the end of the Cold War, became a Russian linguist and served four years of active duty and another four on reserve duty, retraining as a Combat Radio Operator in preparation for the first Gulf War. I love my country. I feel fortunate for having been born here. I love that there are so many opportunities to learn and that our diversity brings a richness of culture.

canstockphoto11582845My patriotism matured, though. I read about slavery and bigotry and the resistance to equal rights. I read about My Lai and the Tuskegee experiment. I read about Watergate and watched the Iran Contra and Thomas-Hill hearings. I payed attention to the corruption, the sexual scandals, the misappropriation of funding, and the misjudgments that cost military men and women their lives.

Maturity required that I pay attention, that I vote, that I believe the foundations of government to be well-reasoned and guided by the rule of law. It required a degree of cynicism while maintaining the belief that no misdeed would go unpunished. It required me to support my community, follow the laws, and contribute where I could.

These days, my patriotism falters. I don’t know where we’re going to end up. I view my fellow citizens with suspicion, appalled that so many have willingly embraced incivility as the norm. Disgusted that so many have the I got mine, you can just suffer mentality. I’m astonished at the number of people who are comfortable deriding education and science. And so incredibly saddened by how quickly hate rises when beckoned by someone who has never served anyone but himself.

Common good is no longer part of the conversation. Who is our military fighting for? Defense contractors and antiquities thieves and soon, it will be minerals. Maybe it was always like that and I was too immature to see how easily people in power waste the lives of those who aren’t. Our system is awash in tainted lucre, crusty old men, and greedy shareholders.

The conservative class is polluted by religious fundamentalism, photogenic faces with acidic, twisted morals. Lying has become de rigeur and shamelessness, a casual smirk worn with defiance.  Winning at the expense of fellow Americans. Trading in an empathetic sense of right and wrong for showmanship.

Liberals are being bogged down by the attention-seeking behavior of the deliberately ignorant. Unfortunately, they’ve been thrown so far off balance and are spending so much time compensating, that the message is lost. They don’t need new bumper stickers. They need to step outside a cycle of reactivity. They need imagination and originality.

I don’t feel at home here, a country I was born in and raised to love. Now there’s this rise of white nationalism, a soupy crockpot of crackpots and conspiracy theorists, all blaming someone else for their lot in life. All the religiosity is scary and the anti-intellectualism reminds me of other regimes that went after intellectuals, scientists, journalists, readers. Me, with my secular humanism and library card – I’ll end up on a list. My inability to be attractive enough to seduce or wealthy enough to bribe anyone – unable to get in the right line, check the right boxes.

Apocalyptic views are often roundly mocked. But we’re watching bedrock canstockphoto29947844institutions having the legs knocked out from under them, while being undermined, and ridiculed by a man who is wily, but not intelligent. We’re watching our President begin to strip away the rights of our fellow citizens in order to cater to his minority of  supporters and to distract us from his other nefarious undertakings. Our leaders used to be people who recognized that the higher duty was to country and not themselves. We used to want people who were smarter, more talented, better read, better educated, and more well-rounded in their American experience than we ourselves were.

canstockphoto3897081Now we have a bully who has been pampered and flattered from cradle to grave, who has turned national discourse into a manipulated reality show dialogue. The Ugly American in all its stomach-turning glory. Meanwhile, every dictator on the planet has bellied up to the bar to have a missile measuring contest. It’s good times for them. The rogue’s gallery of murderers – Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, Kim Jong Un, all happy to see that America is now completely unmoored from even a pretense of moral leadership.

And what can I do? I vote, I follow the rules, I donate to causes I support, I volunteer, I call my representatives. I work to understand the issues. I try to see different perspectives. All from my little house in a midwestern working class suburb where life, at the moment, appears unchanged.

A Muslim family moved in across from our neighbors, who are religious home schoolers. Down the street, one neighbor finally took down their Trump/Pence sign. We still keep up our “We Choose Love” sign, a faint reminder of idealism in the recent past. Will this diverse neighborhood survive or will we come to blows? Will we need hidden rooms and underground railroads and forged identity papers?

There are too many dominoes coming down all at once, too many lies to keep track of, canstockphoto1973547and too many morally-destitute people with the power to be destructive at the helm. Threats from without are being matched by threats from within. We can only protest and resist our captors for so long. Without money or power, we’re just left to negotiate for bathroom breaks – after our gender is checked. This is what a small percentage of our fellow citizens wish for us and there is simply no denying the sheer malevolence of it.

This is about as pessimistic as I get about things and it’s not a place where I plan to stay. Lest you think I’m giving up, giving in, or content to sit in apathy, the events of the last weekend and the national dialogue surrounding them have given me pause. It all requires more thoughtfulness and wisdom than I am capable of at the moment.

34 Comments on “American Hostage: A Foothold Situation

  1. “It is always darkest before the light”. Can’t remember who said it but hopefully it’s true. Lots of things messed up now, but seems like there are rumblings from below. Grass roots organizing may help turn the tide, and let the people take back the country from the powerful. In the meantime, hang in there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I worry that this is not as dark as it is going to get, despite feeling like we’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel these days. Somehow, with the onslaught of bad news, there is always a sense that one is not doing enough or that what we are doing is never going to be enough. I just need to shake it off and get back to work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hit bottom too, a while back, but I am beginning to recover. In fact I’ve been feeling strangely optimistic recently. We’ll make it through this. It may well be a very long recovery. And we must be honest and admit that it may not be a full recovery. There’s a good chance it may never be the same as it was. But we’ll come out of this, and the work to repair the damage will begin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s uncomfortable feeling the hatred I do right now – I know that it is not healthy or helpful, but like most things, I just need to take some time and sort myself. It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading Shawn Otto’s The War on Science or Konrad Lorenz’s The Waning of Humaneness – some of it is pretty dark stuff. Might need to take a break from that!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your words express much of those I align myself with…I love my country and what it was supposed to represent but now, wtf? And now what? I’m thankful you are at a paise and still aligning yourself with love….our time to do more is coming…just not quite sure what it is yet. Keep expressing yourself through your writing…it helps! Keep holding your heart space…it matters! Love and respect you 💕

    Love and hugs, Adventure

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a truly difficult situation for you and your country people. It is good to see someone being so thoughtful about your situation. I hope all the like minded people will join and act together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is hard to remain thoughtful when white nationalists are shamelessly promoting their views and the man who is leading our country is an idiot. Sometimes it feels like too much to rationalize and work through the feelings of anger and I’ve hit a bit of a wall. But I’ll get over it. We have to, in order to make sure our voices are heard and our values supported. I don’t believe evil ever wins in the end, but it sure looks like it’s got the upper hand right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am sure that whatever you do will make a difference. So many Americans on WordPress are concerned and I am sure this will snowball the effects of all your efforts, great and small.

        Liked by 1 person

    • It is exhausting to say the least. There are so many things that could ignite a powder keg here and most of the threats are internal. There’s just no telling what could happen and that is what Donald Trump and the alt-right have done – made American life as unpredictable and unstable as he is. it’s unforgivable.

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  5. You’re hitting on all cylinders here… good job. I’ve lived through the JFK, RFK, and MLK assassinations, race riots, Kent State, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran hostage crisis, Iran-Contra scandal, the rigged 2000 election, 911, Iraq war, 2008 recession, endless Columbines and Sandy Hooks… and I’ve never seen it as bad as it is now. Good leaders can offer moral leadership and can pull us through things like recessions, North Koreas, and white nationalist trends. But when a country begins to ELECT leaders as twisted and pathetic as we have now, it’s in bad shape. My solution? It may not be the best solution, but: donate to the causes I support, ration the amount of news I digest, spill my guts on my blog, get out into nature a lot… and watch lots of “Petticoat Junction.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m firing on all cylinders. Anger has a way of muddying the waters. I think your solution sounds reasonable. For awhile I was able to keep to that plan for myself (swapping Petticoat Junction for good English mysteries). The open displays of hatred by armed people, who generally hate women and minorities being described as “some good people” by our president just depressed the hell out of me. There seems to be backlash at the moment, but I don’t know what concrete change will accompany it. He’s still president and still a dangerous idiot.
      However, once the rage fog clears, I’ll hopefully get back to my rational senses and find a more useful path.

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      • Anger and rage are normal, unless you’re sedated by indifference or ignorance (like some people). The important thing is to channel it responsibly. Sounds like you do that. Not so the Trumpettes.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for posting this, I needed to read your words today. No matter how many opinion pieces I read about anything, I always find your thoughts to ring the truest to my own. Thanks for putting down on (electronic) paper what I never seem to be able to articulate.

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    • Thanks, Nancy, for letting me know that it is useful when I write things that aren’t particularly happy. I hate to devolve into self-pity and depression, but I hope I’ll be writing from a better place soon.

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  7. This resonates with my own thinking, and you do a service in reminding those of us who feel increasingly alien in our own country that we are not alone. Thank you. The small silver linings in this immense cloud are that the size of the American underbelly is now clearly evident, however distressing its measure. And, many Republicans are choosing values over partisanship in their willingness to part ways and even criticize Trump.

    I’m not sure this statement is true: “We used to want people who were smarter, more talented, better read, better educated, and more well-rounded in their American experience than we ourselves were.” Maybe this was true decades ago, but in my 40 years of voting, I’ve seen repeatedly that many Americans are threatened by people who are — by dint of intelligence, opportunity and experience — best qualified to govern. They’d rather have men — and it IS men, for these folks — to whom they can relate, even from a base emotional level. The result occupies The White House.

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    • It’s downright exhausting to work through rationalizations that look positive. I’ll get there. Regardless of gender, until George W. Bush, presidents at bare minimum, seemed well-read. That we have someone who watches more TV than reads depresses the hell out of me. But that is likely a reflection of our population as well.
      I used to think that it would be good if white nationalists outed themselves, and perhaps the light works as a disinfectant, but some days, I wish they’d crawl back under their rocks and let the world seem slightly sane for just a moment. But those days are gone, if they ever existed at all.

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  8. This post is a tremendously lucid description of what the world feels like these days, Michelle. I admire how you can write about anger and pain without allowing either to take over or obliterate reason. These are such unbelievable times—watching everything we thought we knew being eclipsed by bigotry and closed-mindedness, and then watching bigotry celebrated. It’s really hard to accept that a great many of my countrymen (including the president) shun reason, science, integrity and truth, and that they are unwilling to examine or question the rhetoric and hate-speak that fuels them. And that the only way they can see to elevate themselves is by putting/keeping others down. I sometimes feel like I have been transported to another place and time, and that restoring American values—the ones that made us patriotic at one time and now make us question patriotism—is the “Mission: Impossible” episode that faces us. As always, thanks, Michelle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about what qualifies as American values and that even as we felt patriotism in the past, many of our fellow Americans were still being denied equal rights. Perhaps instead of a restoration, we need an evolution of values. I’m knee deep in “The War on Science” by Shawn Otto and reading about the history of politics and science and religion is really some great food for thought in terms of how policy decisions are made.
      All that aside, it seems like Trump is imploding due to all the backlash, and continuing to alienate even his own allies. There is hope and now, it’s likely more important that the public dialogue become open, less retributive and more forgiving. Of course, that requires a great deal of optimism and self-examination. Another post altogether.

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  9. These are definitely dark days in America. I think in some ways we are just now experiencing some of the pain that other populations in other places on this planet have been dealing with forever. The uncertainty you describe is shared by so many of us and is so disorienting. How did we get here? The fact that we ARE here makes the world feel distorted and ugly and yes, makes me question the very foundations of my belief in the integrity of my own country. It’s heart sickening to watch Michele. But let’s keep our voices out there, and keep asking the important questions, and challenging the thoughtless narratives and mindless rhetoric. I don’t know what more we can do now, other than stay the course.

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    • I would love to respond with thoughtfulness to your thoughtful comment. At the moment, I’m just a little giddy over a predictable outcome – Steve Bannon, that walking pustule, is out of this administration. Narcissist trumps nationalist. If we stay the course long enough to see Gorka and Miller out and the final nail, Trump’s resignation, then maybe we can get back to the business of stabilizing the country and improving our international relations. Don’t like Pence at all for his fundamentalism, but he’s predictable.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I feel your heart through this writing. We can’t be discouraged for too long. Continue to do what you can do even if those things seem small

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    • The happy news that one white nationalist is out of the White House just hit the airwaves. A little ray of sunshine amid the chaos of this administration. Maybe Trump will be forced to respond like a grown up next time there is civil strife (probably not). The big picture, outside of politics, is that we have a lot of work to do.

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  11. I’m with you. I haven’t slept well since it happened. I’m scared for our future, for the future of my daughter. Where do we go from here?

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    • There’s a concept when raising children of periods of disequilibrium right before a growth spurt. They become less predictable and you start to worry that something is wrong. Maybe social evolution is like that as well and we are in a period of disequilibrium on our way to growth. Let’s hope that it’s a short phase!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Not that it’s anything to do with me, as one of those funny little bowler hat wearing, umbrella toting Brits, but I think it might be time now to let go of patriotism and have a go at exhausted cynicism with a dash of barbed humour.

    Since the appalling, bewildering Trump somehow scrabbled into power it seems to me that America has lost something forever – an aura of godlike invulnerability, perhaps. Even when you finally get rid of him – and I am so looking forward to that – I doubt that it will fully come back, even if you elect someone wonderful next time round.

    The upside is that we now see at least the sensibles half of you – the other half would still seem to be mad as hatters and getting madder every moment -as real human beings like us rather than those strange plastic creatures with the perfect teeth from decades of imported television programmes. We care about you in your tribulations.

    I would say – thinking on my feet here – that this fall from grace is probably something all powerful nations eventually have to go through, as we did when we somehow mislaid the British empire and almost lost the second world war. It’s humiliating and depressing and it takes many generations for the change to work its way through and out, but you emerge a little safe, because a little humbler, a little more cynical about politicians and the powerful rich. Do not underestimate humour, even gentle humour. It is a weapon: possibly the most powerful one there is.

    I’m afraid it is going to get much worse before it gets better. I’m afraid he may even drag us all, and even this fragile planet down with him. But I think this is a painful dialogue your nation needs to have with itself right now, an intellectual re-run of your civil war.

    And God help us if the wrong side wins.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Humility is a good thing and sometimes America needs a good dose of it. But what is happening now feels like a tipping point – and we either end up with a lot of civil strife or we grow up just a little bit more. No one knows how it is going to go. It is that instability that is so dangerous.
      I generally have a pretty dark sense of humor and maybe if I weren’t a parent or living in a diverse community, I’d be a little more lighthearted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, being a parent changes so much. Not having children or grandchildren I overlooked that aspect, and I apologise. I didn’t mean you ought to be trying to see the funny side of such a dire and totally unamusing situation. I know what I did mean but can’t explain it clearly, so I’ll leave it there.

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  13. First, thank you for your service! Second, on my own level, I’ve also hit a pessimistic attitude. This was very well written! I think a lot of people feel the same, which is something I suppose. I take timeouts when I fell like this. To be clear, not completely checkout, just a mental break. Hope you rebound soon!

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  14. Pingback: American Hostage: A Foothold Situation — The Green Study – TEA Initiatives

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