Beware of False Patriotism

There has been a fascist streak running through this country since the 1700’s.

A friend of mine recently directed me to an offering in the PBS Short Film Festival entitled A Night at the Garden. From the title, you’d expect it to be bucolic. Images in my head include the sounds of crickets, fireflies flashing amongst the trees, a babbling brook, cows lowing in the distance. Peaceful.

Yeah. This video is not that. Not even close.

The video itself is only 6 minutes long. The rest of it is credits. I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch it. It is terrifying. It’s actual footage of the 1939 Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It’s an important film to watch, because history has been repeating itself of late, and since we have more access to misinformation, more of us are vulnerable to this type of false patriotism.

According to Wikipedia, 20,000 people attended that Fascist rally, and when you see the footage, the pomp and circumstance will give you the chills. People marching in lock step, American flags interspersed with Nazi flags. A gigantic image of George Washington, as if he were a god. People giving the Nazi salute to the American flag. Patriotism at its most terrifying.

And wait until you get to the part where the protester runs up on stage and is beaten up by about 20 to 30 Ordnungsdienst, the militia that was organized by the German American Bund to protect them at the rally. They throw the protester to the ground, kick him, and punch him. All this while the speaker looks on and smiles. If the local police hadn’t dragged the poor protester off stage, he may very well have been killed. Instead, they fined him 25 dollars for disorderly conduct (which is the equivalent of $505.66 in today’s money). That must have been a bitter pill to swallow given the conduct of the Nazis that the world would come to know.

At the time of this rally, the Nazis were operating 6 concentration camps. But Americans only stopped ignoring the constant drumbeat of news regarding these camps by around 1944 and by then there were almost too many to count. It’s not that we didn’t know. We just didn’t want to believe or think about it. But when Johnny came marching home with horror stories, there was no more room for denial.

But let’s go back to that Nazi rally on American soil in 1939. This time let’s avert our gaze from the stage. (Yes, please!) Let’s look at the 20,000 Americans in the audience.

One has to wonder how many people in attendance had already joined the German American Bund. This was, after all, pure propaganda, and it would serve that organization well to pack the Garden so people would think that this hatred was the prevailing attitude. Fortunately, Wikipedia tells us that there were 100,000 protesters outside, including WWI veterans wrapped in the American flag.

And this little tidbit from Wikipedia really had me intrigued: “One of the most mystifying disturbances came from a blaring speaker set up in a second-floor room of a rooming house at the southern corner of Forty-ninth Street and Eight Avenue. Shortly before 8 o’clock it began blaring out a denunciation of Nazis and urging “Be American, Stay at Home.” Upon investigation, the room was found untenanted: the voice of these ‘denunciations’ came from a record, timed to go off at 7:55 pm.”

I would dearly love to hear the story behind that.

Mayor LaGuardia hoped that by allowing the rally at the Garden, the disturbing spectacle would convince people that this group was one to be avoided. But he also knew that things were bound to get ugly, so he dispatched 1,700 uniformed officers outside, and 600 undercover officers inside.

There is really no way to know the makeup of the audience. The GAB’s membership rolls were already dwindling. (Hence the need for the rally.) One has to assume that a certain percentage were already members, and that a certain percentage had fallen for the disinformation campaign, and/or were anti-semites who were looking for like-minded friends.

It’s also important to remember that this was 1939, and people had been suffering the effects of the Great Depression for a decade. That’s a lot of disaffected countrymen who were longing to “Make America Great Again.” As we know at present, people are willing to swallow anything if they think it will bring them some relief.

But the attendees that I worry about the most are the very small percentage who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. The posters for this event called it a “Pro-American Rally.” It mentions “True Americanism.” World War II wouldn’t begin in Europe until September, which is a little over 6 months after this rally. And America wouldn’t join the war until December 1941.

But this must have been a really scary time, and one where a lot of people might feel instinctively more patriotic, because they were so afraid. They probably would think that going and rooting for America was a good idea. The poster did not contain Swastikas. The only telltale sign was that all the letters s in the poster are designed like those worn by the German SS. I suspect that those trying to ignore the existence of concentration camps were not likely to look at pictures of those terrorists long enough to focus on the font on their uniforms.

And yet, for those in denial, it would take a special level of moral blindness and an utter lack of independent judgment to walk past 100,000 protesters to go to this rally and still be shocked at what one was walking into. Still, I’d like to think (for our sakes, if not for theirs) that there were a certain number of clueless donkeys who attended that rally and looked on in horror. What must it feel like to suddenly be completely surrounded by people who you are convinced are warped, twisted and crazed? You certainly wouldn’t want to speak up. Here you’d be, expecting to root, root, root for your country, only to discover that this was no baseball game. Under those circumstances, watching someone beaten on stage must have been terrifying.

But please don’t think that this infamous Nazi rally was the only one that ever occurred in America. Far from it. These rallies occurred all over the country. In fact, here in Seattle several rallies were held, albeit with protesters outside. I encourage you to read this fascinating series of articles in Crosscut. The series of six articles is about the forgotten history of the Nazis in the Northwest, and it will make you blink more than once.

Among the things discussed in this series is the fact that one of the local diplomats from Nazi Germany, Baron Manfred von Killinger, was a known Nazi stormtrooper. It was later discovered that he was posted in the San Francisco office to invigorate the already existing spy network in the United States. Later, he killed himself after being charged with implementing the Final Solution in Romania.

It seems that Seattle was lousy with Nazis before the war. In fact, in 1937 there was a Nazi rally at the Masonic Temple, and the Mayor of Seattle was in attendance, and it is alleged that he gave the Nazi salute. I first learned of this disturbing event while I was sitting in that very theater, now called the Egyptian. It was in 2018, and I was there to see Rick Steves do a talk and a prescreening of his upcoming documentary entitled, The Story of Fascism in Europe. This film is not your usual Rick Steves upbeat travelogue. It’s a fascinating documentary that I highly recommend. I blogged about it here.

Crosscut also wrote about Steves’ talk at the Egyptian, and went into more detail about Seattle’s Nazi sympathizers in this article, which was written two years after the series of articles mentioned above. It talked about the Nazi rallies in town, and also that even back then, the NRA was heavily involved with the far right, and would help arm these groups, just as they do to this very day.

It goes on to describe another creepy Seattle/Nazi connection in the form of William Dudley Pelley, a presidential candidate in 1936 who called himself “American Hitler”. He was also the founder of the Silver Shirts, and their headquarters were in Redmond, Washington for a time, right across the lake from Seattle. (Interestingly, Redmond is now home to the Microsoft headquarters.) The Silver Shirts also got a lot of their arms from the NRA and they planned to overthrow the American government. Thank goodness their man was never elected.

According to this article, there has been a fascist streak running through this country since the 1700’s. McCarthyism, with its witch hunt of communists, was fascism pure and simple. But as Rick Steves says, “Fascism is incremental. It’s a slow chipping away of your rights, until one day you look up and you have none.”

Our strongest flirtation with fascism to date was when Trump was elected president in 2016. This article, and thousands of others on the web, make a great case for his unapologetically fascist tendencies. Any time you hear someone shouting about fake news, ask yourself what they are trying to keep you from knowing. It’s a safe bet that these chaos-mongers are fascists. Never let anyone replace your access to professional reporting that is well-investigated and backed up with facts, with their pretty words based on nothing but opinion and rumor.

And, again, beware of false patriotism. We step over its shadows everywhere we go. Sitting in that seat at the Egyptian where known Nazis had sat and saluted both the Nazi and American flags made me want to leap up and run to the nearest shower. I’m sure Germans today feel that way all the time. Or maybe they’ve reconciled themselves with their dark past. I’m sure there are a wide range of attitudes, just as there are in this country.

But if someone is patriotic in the extreme, let your BS antennas go up. I have been saying this for years: A true patriot is one who can look at the country with an unjaundiced eye and criticize it when it needs to be criticized. That person truly wants the best for the country, and would never fall for these rallies that serve up food for thought that has no real nutritional value.

Don’t take the easy way out. Question authority. Exercise the critical thinking skills that so many are trying to prevent us from being taught in schools. These skills, although hard-won, will serve you well. No doubt about it: Nazi flags still fly in America. We need to be ever-vigilant of fascism and resist it at every turn.

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A Superior American’s Inferiority Complex

You have to live with this dichotomy in America.

Like many Americans, I was raised to believe this was the best country in the entire world. We were the land of the free and the home of the brave. The American dream was real. We did everything right and everyone wanted to be one of us. We had integrity and always stepped in to save the rest of the world when things hit the fan. We are number one!

At the same time, I was taught that all things that came from Europe were vastly superior. French wine was the best. Everyone in Europe dressed better than we did, and had much more style. The food was better. The architecture was more beautiful. They had a lot more history than we do (since we feel that Native American history doesn’t count), and that meant they were more legitimate than we were. To be clear, no one ever taught me those same things about Asia or Africa or Latin America or anywhere else for that matter. Europe was special.

It was a rather complex dichotomy, feeling as though we were the best and yet not quite good enough at the same time. As a child I didn’t give it very much scrutiny. I just knew that both things were true. Indoctrination never occurred to me at the time.

When I was 19 and in college, I met a fellow student who was from the Netherlands, and I instantly assumed that she was about 1000% cooler than I would ever be. She was definitely more beautiful and more popular. We became fast friends. I considered her my best friend for many years. But as it has always been in my life, the title was never reciprocated in any way. We did, however, exchange 30 page letters with each other when she moved back to Holland in that time before Internet. I have a big box of her letters in my attic as we speak. As we built our lives, we had less time for that.

I was definitely very interested in keeping up with her, because I was convinced that just by dint of being who she was, she was going to lead this amazing, happy, successful life and reach heights that I could never imagine reaching. I settled back and assumed I would spend a lifetime living vicariously through her “fantasticness”. She came to visit me and I went to visit her.

But I was pretty naive in my freshman year in college, about politics and American history and world history in general. So, every once in a while, when my friend would say something derogatory, it would shock me. One time, we went to Disney World together and one of the attractions that we entered was that animatronic love letter to America, the Hall of Presidents. (Check out this disturbing video of it from when Trump was president here.) I left feeling patriotic. She left feeling stunned and creeped out. At the time I didn’t get it.

Now I do. We Americans are over the top with our “rah, rah, rah” and our “America first” and our pride. Our patriotic ravings make it sound like we are the brainwashed subjects of a military dictatorship. And now that I’ve seen how ugly that can get, thanks to Trump, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enter that Hall of Presidents again without squirming.

She and I also went to the ballet once. It was my first ballet ever, in fact, and also my last. Afterward, she was so critical of the performance that it made me cry because I had loved it, and now I felt stupid and uncultured. She also criticized our chocolate and our peanut butter and our cheese and our bread. It seems we Americans eat pig food.

She even criticized the way I spoke English several times. As if it were her first language and she therefore had the authority to judge. One time I remember using the phrase “in any case” and her head nearly exploded. Back then I was hurt and confused and assumed that she must be right about my inability to speak decent English, because she was a cool multi-lingual European. Now I realize that as much as I loved her, she wasn’t always a very nice person. Just like the rest of us. She was human. Imagine that!

When I told her that I was of Danish, French and Irish descent, she said that all Americans were, basically, mutts, and that she was just Dutch. That’s it. At the time I didn’t realize that throughout history, Holland was overrun by Celts and Romans and Spaniards and French and many other tribes and nationalities, and that the Dutch also got up to all manner of shenanigans as they forcefully colonized the planet. I’m now quite sure that she is every bit the mutt that I am, whether she knows it or not.

She also, of course, criticized America’s history, for good reason. In fact, I probably have her to thank for starting me on the path of political awareness, as painful as I found it at the time. But over the years I’ve been amused, in a bittersweet way, to discover that the Dutch were no shining beacon of moral rectitude, either.

I recently read this article entitled, “‘I’ll be at front of queue to change my slave name’”, about the descendants of slaves in Holland finally being able to change their condescending slave surnames without having to pay an outrageous fee to do so, and about how the Dutch were in the slave trade for more than 3 centuries and shipped more than a half million Africans across the Atlantic, and that racism still abounds there, just as it does here.

That article is what prompted me to write this post. It made all the memories come flooding back. The indoctrination of my childhood. The feeling of inferiority of my young adulthood. All of it.

We definitely had a friendship. I have many fond memories, and I miss her to this day. But she hasn’t responded to my emails in years. I suspect it had something to do with my crowdfunding campaign when I needed help to move to the west coast. She participated, for which I’m extremely grateful, but we haven’t really spoken since. And while she has come to America several times, she no longer bothers to visit me or reach out in any way. I’m not sure why this had to happen, but it’s a shame, because I think she’d like me more now. I know I do.

The rose-colored glasses that I used to wear while looking at my country have fallen apart from lack of use. I know we are a country that tortures and incarcerates without due process. We make wars for reasons that have nothing to do with honor and everything to do with profit. We stole this land. We built it up on the backs of slaves. We are racist and sexist and violent, and I think, as a society, we are losing our collective mind.

Yes, there are also good things about this country, and mostly I’m glad I live here. I honestly believe that the truest form of patriotism is through criticism. I want this country to succeed, and I know in my heart that it can and must do better, and I encourage it to do so. There’s no greater love than that. People that think that blind devotion and unquestioning loyalty are the only ways to demonstrate a true love of country are deluded and, frankly, dangerous to democracy.

I’m also well-traveled enough now to find Europe amazing and fun, but not superior. Just delightfully different. There are just so many different and equally valid ways to live in the world. I would still admire a lot of things about my friend, but I’d be capable, now, of calling bullshit when her own brand of arrogance comes to the fore.

The ultimate irony is that my life, despite all predictions, has turned out to be pretty darned amazing. I’m quite happy with it. I wish she knew that and took part in it.

I have no idea how my friend feels about her life. The last few contacts we had led me to believe that she wasn’t particularly content. I guess I’ll never know, now. That makes me sad. I do wish her well.

The bottom line is that we’re both humans. We each have our flaws and our wonderful bits. And it’s safe to assume that when we first met, we both still had a lot of growing up to do.

Hooray for growth! Three cheers for enlightenment! And thanks for the memories. I wish there could be more of them. I’d be open to it. But nothing in life should be forced.

Disney’s Hall of Presidents

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American Cruelty

You have to eat or be eaten.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world. At the rate this pandemic is going, I might never be able to travel internationally again, so I’m losing perspective. But I certainly have ample opportunity to observe my fellow Americans from my exclusive perch in the tower of my drawbridge, and I also read enough of the news to believe this to be true: Americans, in general, are getting increasingly cranky to the point of being really terrifying.

I get it. This pandemic has us worn out. The state of politics, especially since Trump came along, has our nerves shredded. And the way that we have all been forced to answer certain moral questions of late is revealing that a lot fewer of us are decent human beings than I previously imagined.

Even though this post is not strictly about masks and vaccines, I do have to say that it seems like a no-brainer to me: If I’m asked to do something that I’m not thrilled with, but that thing will potentially help to prevent someone from dying, I’m going to do that thing. I got vaccinated. I wear a mask. But there are people out there who genuinely believe that they should not be personally inconvenienced just so someone else might live. It astounds me. Public health isn’t about just you. If the golden rule means anything at all, it means, hey, maybe I shouldn’t have a hand in bringing about someone else’s demise.

The whole mask and vaccine thing is just the tippy top of a huge iceberg of cruelty that is becoming increasingly evident. I’m seeing more people shouting at each other from the bike lanes and out of car windows. More horns are blaring. The schizophrenics among our homeless people, who I view as the human equivalent of canaries in coal mines, are starting to rage even more as tensions increase. It’s like we are now in a constant state of full moon. All bets are off. It’s impossible to predict who will lose it next. All that you can do is hope that you’re not anywhere near ground zero when it happens.

My friends who work in the medical field are being screamed at more often, and sometimes even assaulted. Here on my drawbridge, more pedestrians are refusing to cooperate every day. To hell with the 3000 gross ton gravel barge that’s bearing down on us. They have places to go and people to see. Screw the flashing lights and warning gongs.

More people are cutting in line in general. More people are blowing through red lights. The other day I saw two guys engaged in a fistfight on a street corner in broad daylight.

I can’t emphasize this enough: There is NO EXCUSE for yelling at and/or assaulting someone for doing their job. You may not like the policy they’re having to enforce, but they’re just trying to make a living. You want to shout, shout at the rich person who probably owns the company. Rich people should be shouted at a lot more often, if you ask me. They certainly deserve it more than cashiers or wait staff do.

It’s getting so I’m afraid to ask anyone a question, even one as innocent as, “How late are you open?” because responses to any type of question seem to be hostile these days. I spend a lot of time wondering what I’ve done to people. But it doesn’t just happen to me. Not that that’s any comfort.

I just read a fascinating opinion piece by Umair Haque, entitled, “Why America is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruel Society.” It really made me think about how America is set up to operate. It also made me think about how this country came to be the way it is.

In that article, the author posits the theory that we have a very unusual origin story, even for a colonial country that has been trained to utterly ignore the native people who were here first. Throughout colonial history, America has been colonized by people who were leaving home because on one level or another they were not wanted.

Everyone’s immigration story is different, of course, but we didn’t tend to attract the rich upper classes. Royalty wasn’t trying to move here. Some common reasons for coming to America included getting away from religious or political persecution, or avoiding violence at home, or desperate poverty and no opportunities in their homelands, or they were criminals. Let’s face it. There’s no need to pursue the American Dream unless you’re living a nightmare.

One thing that all desperate people have in common is the desire to no longer be at the bottom of society. They want to experience dignity, respect, and a sense of belonging. Who doesn’t? But in order for you to rise up in the hierarchy to the place where those things are obtainable, someone has to be below you, and that person doesn’t want to be there either, so it becomes a fight. And as more and more waves of immigrants washed up on these shores, more people had to get stepped on, and, the author suggests, this cruelty has since become a habit that has been passed down through the generations.

The English settlers hated the Native Americans. Then they had to hate all the people that came after them and threatened their place in the societal pyramid. So the English hated the French, the French hated the Germans, the Germans hated the Irish, who hated the Italians, and on and on. And of course, slaves got to be the scapegoats for everyone even though they never asked to be here in the first place. Then came the Asians who did the great service of also not looking like us, so they, too, were easy to spot and be cruel to. When we took the West from the Spanish-speaking people who had taken it from the Native Americans, we hated them too.

And through all of this, which is still ongoing, we have learned, consciously or unconsciously, that you have to be cruel to survive. You have to be violent to get ahead. You have to eat or be eaten.

Over the centuries, the cruelty has become institutionalized. Homeless? What a shame. Glad I’m not you. Less than desirable as a neighbor? Lock ‘em up and throw away the key. You don’t deserve universal health care. Higher education is only for those who can pay for it. Can’t get a job? Well, then, join the military and become cannon fodder or the good of the country.

We have one of the lowest life expectancies of any rich nation, and while that’s embarrassing, nothing need be done about it unless it starts impacting ME. We have the highest rate of mass shootings in the world, but hey, that helps decrease the surplus population. The only country that has a higher death rate per capita due to drug use is the Ukraine, and yet we put very little money into our substance abuse infrastructure. Let ‘em eat cake.

Based on this hierarchy of ours, the conservatives should encourage immigration, not attempt to squash it. Because if they are successful in their policies of exclusion, one day they may look around and realize that they no longer have anyone to step on, and it’s awfully lonely at the bottom.

We need to find a way to break this cycle of cruelty and hate. We need to lift each other up if we want this country to succeed. We need to realize that our current behavior is not serving us well.

But most of all, I think we all need to take a deep breath, pause, and grow the f**k up.

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A Blanket Apology to Everyone on Earth

Please forgive us, individually, even if you cannot forgive us collectively.

This post is for all of you who read my blog outside of the U.S. I am an American. I can’t speak for all Americans. No one can. Or at least no one should. But I can certainly speak for myself.

It breaks my heart that my country as a whole is being judged by the rest of the world based on what they see in the news. Most of us are not like the insane people who grab the headlines these days. Many of us are as appalled by what we read as you are. I don’t know if that will be a source of comfort or of increased anxiety for you, but there you have it: for many of us, that feeling of disgust does not stop outside our borders.

So let me tell you a little about who I am, so you can see that not all of us fit that stereotype that has been created by Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, where you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting someone who is morally bankrupt, unforgivably selfish, and rotting from the inside by the sheer weight of his or her greed. Such blatant abuse of power is unconscionable.

First of all, I am horrified at my government’s total disdain for the environment. We are one of the most environmentally selfish nations on earth, and the least likely to do anything to turn this global warming situation around before it destroys us all. I’m so sorry for that. I wish I felt like I could do something about it. I mean, I vote. I speak out. I do the best I can to reduce my carbon footprint. But I feel like I’m not making an impact, and I know this negatively impacts you as well.

I also happen to think that my country’s stance on guns is absurd and dangerous. We have more mass shootings than anywhere else, and we can’t even agree that the average citizen has no legitimate need for semi-automatic weapons. It makes no sense.

And this damned border wall that Trump is so in love with? I don’t want it. No one I know really wants it. All this political maneuvering is an embarrassment. Honestly, how do these people even look themselves in the mirror?

I don’t think immigrants are a threat. In fact, I’m a second generation American myself. This country would be lost without immigrants. I’m not so greedy that I’m not willing to share the wealth. I actually like you unless you give me some personal reason to feel otherwise. I don’t believe in kidnapping your children at the border. I think the day we stop granting asylum to people in danger is the day when we lose the most vital part of what makes us decent human beings. Jesus wouldn’t turn you away, so how can a country that considers itself mainly Christian do so? I don’t understand this attitude of xenophobia. It makes me sick.

I am also profoundly sorry that we don’t step in to help nearly as often as we butt in to serve our own best interests. We have no right to do this. Clearly, we struggle to get ourselves right, so it’s the height of arrogance to think we can fix anyone else.

And we imprison people to a much higher degree than any other country. I can’t blame you if you think twice about visiting us. I’d be afraid to, if I were you. But I genuinely believe that we need you to come visit. We need our horizons expanded. It’s hard to think of someone as an enemy once we’ve broken bread with that person. Please, come break bread with us.

I guess I do sit squarely in one stereotype. I tend to forget the world doesn’t revolve around us. Perhaps you could care less about what my country says or does. Perhaps you have more important things on your mind than my pompous country. That’s a legitimate response, too, and I can hardly blame you for it.

I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry about all the destruction we cause. I just wanted you to know that somewhere here, in this unbelievable circus of a country, sits a woman in a bridge tower who is every bit as outraged as many of you are. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone. So, please forgive us, individually, even if you cannot bring yourselves to forgive us collectively.

American Flag

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

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Sanctuary Cities

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about sanctuary cities. He happens to fall on the opposite end of the political bell curve, so debates with him can be interesting. And yet we never get hostile with each other, and still manage to be respectful. Why is that such a dying art?

Anyway, he thinks Seattle, and all other cities that declare themselves to be sanctuaries, are stupid, because they’re potentially depriving themselves of a lot of federal funding, and that will put a lot more pressure on the local taxpayers and reduce services to residents.

I, on the other hand, suggested that perhaps it is Trump who is the stupid one. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) If he withdraws funding, he is further ostracizing the people who live in these sanctuary cities, who won’t simply fall into line because of his bullying tactics. He’ll also be harming certain economies, and that will have a negative impact on the overall economy. Bad business. His travel ban has already cost our tourism industry more than 7 billion dollars. That’s billion, with a b. So I shudder to think what a sanctuary city ban would do. How is this making America great again?

And although many of us seem to conveniently forget this, the United States of America was founded on the basic principle that it is a nation that will provide sanctuary. The precedent was set long, long ago. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Give us your tired, your poor…

Yeah, I know that those concepts seem to be under attack these days, but it’s holding out this fantasy that makes me most proud. Even as our rights are eroded, I like to cling to the belief that somewhere within our beleaguered national soul, we still have the potential for being a bastion of freedom. Why on earth would someone attack cities for doing the very thing that makes us a country?

It boggles the mind.

Sanctuary-Cities

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How Lucky are We?

Can you imagine living in a country where you are in constant fear of having your door kicked in? How about living in a place where your neighbors can and will threaten your life and no one will protect you? Coming from my place of white privilege, I can’t even conceive of an existence in which I do not feel safe. It never would occur to me to worry that I couldn’t keep my family intact.

How lucky we are to live in America, right? Well, some of us, at least. Because I’ve been talking about America. Trump’s America.

Even as you read this, many of your neighbors do not feel safe. You are much, much more likely to be raided by ICE or incarcerated in this country than you are to be harmed by a terrorist. That’s even if you are someone who has been contributing to the economy for decades and have harmed no one in your entire life.

As noted in this story from Public Radio International, there has been a sharp rise in immigrants fleeing across the border from the United States to Canada in recent months. Winter months. These people are willing to risk frostbite to get away from us. From us. You can see pictures of some of these people in this article from The Guardian.

We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I am so ashamed.

The only thing I know to do is add my tiny little voice to the many others who are saying, “This is not who we are.”

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A Message to the World

Hello. I’m an American. Never in my life did I imagine that I would say this, but I am ashamed of the state of my country. I am embarrassed at the face we are currently showing to the world. This is not who we are.

Never again will I look at another country and assume that all its people agree with its government. Because I don’t. Never again will I think of the resident of another country as possessing a stereotypical characteristic based on that person’s place of birth. Because clearly, I no longer fit in here.

In recent months I’ve been seeing a great deal of ugliness. I’ve seen Americans spewing hate. I’ve seen selfishness and greed and intolerance. I’ve seen ignorance deified and intelligence vilified. I’ve seen science discounted and fantasy encouraged. I’ve seen violence. I’ve seen misogyny. I’ve seen fraud. I see more and more lies every day.

I am so sorry that things have gotten this way. I didn’t vote for Trump. I wouldn’t have approved any of his cabinet members or his choices for the Supreme Court. There is not a single thing that this man has done that I agree with. Not one.

I’m particularly mortified that his immigration policies are making so many people live in fear. This is not acceptable to me. I am a second generation American, and the vast majority of the people who live here are descended from immigrants. We have absolutely no right to do what we are currently doing.

We also have no right to treat the Native Americans the way that we do. If anyone should have moral currency with regard to how we treat the land here, it should be them. They should not be beaten down for wanting water that is safe to drink. Shame on us.

We, of all people, should not have the right to negatively impact women’s health at home or abroad. We should also appreciate the good work that other members of the United Nations do every single day. We should be good stewards of our environment, because what we do affects the entire planet.

I just want you to know that many Americans still believe in human rights, freedom, justice, the environment, freedom of speech, science, peace, and respect for all people who do good in this world. I want you to know that those of us who feel this way will not remain silent. We will speak out for the values that we all strive to maintain. Our voices might get drowned out by those in power, but please don’t stop listening for us. We are here.

Because what you’re seeing now is not who we are.

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Schooled by Jon Stewart

I will always wonder if this election wouldn’t have gone differently if Jon Stewart hadn’t retired prior to the campaign. To me, he is the epitome of a well-spoken and reasonable human being. Unfortunately the people who needed to listen to him the most were the very ones who never watched his show. More and more we are a culture that preaches to its own choir.

Would I classify him as liberal? Heck, yeah. But he’s not afraid to smack sense into even those of us on the left. That’s what I admire about him the most. He has integrity.

For example, I just watched this 6 minute interview of him on CBS This Morning and it really made me take a hard look at myself. If you have the time, I encourage you to watch it. But for those of you who don’t, I will share with you one of the many wise things that he says.

“There is now this idea that anyone who voted for him [Trump] has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. There are guys in my neighborhood that I love, that I respect, that I think have incredible qualities, who are not afraid of Mexicans and not afraid of Muslims and not afraid of Blacks. They’re afraid of their insurance premiums. In the Liberal community you hate this idea of creating people as a monolith. Don’t look at Muslims as a monolith. They are unique individuals. It would be ignorance. But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith, is a racist. That hypocrisy is also real in our country. And so this is the fight that we wage against ourselves and each other, because America’s not natural. Natural is tribal. We’re fighting against thousands of years of human behavior and history to create something that no one’s ever… that’s what’s exceptional about America, and that’s what… like, this ain’t easy.”

Okay, I have to confess, Jon Stewart just bitch-slapped me but good. Because I have to admit it: I was demonizing all Trump supporters for demonizing… well… everyone else. As if my lumping them all into one steaming pile was better than their doing the very same thing to others.

Another thing Jon Stewart pointed out was that we’re still the same country we were last month. Whether that’s good or bad is up to each one of us, I suppose. But I really do have to work on my attitude. I think we all do, all across the spectrum. I’m going to try a lot harder to appreciate the shades of grey. I suspect there are a heck of a lot more than 50 of them in this country. Isn’t that, after all, the whole point of it?

I will say, though, that I still can’t relate to someone caring about their insurance premiums more than the safety and rights of others, but hey, that’s just me. Oh, there I go again. This is going to take practice.

jon-stewart
I’d have voted for him.

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Cop Avoidance

Back in the early 80’s I was studying abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was one of the high points in my life. I learned so much about myself and the wider world. It had a profound effect on how I see this planet and its many inhabitants.

I felt very safe in that welcoming community. It’s a college town, bustling with students and culture, and everyone made me feel at home. I made several friends that I’m still in contact with to this very day. The only times I didn’t feel safe were those times when I should have felt safest of all—when the cops were out.

I can’t speak to what the atmosphere is like now. I haven’t been there in decades. But I can say that when I lived there, when people saw someone in uniform, they tended to quietly disappear down side streets. The area would become eerily quiet, the air full of tension.

You couldn’t blame them. These men often looked intoxicated, and they sported automatic weapons much of the time. There was an air of lawlessness about these law enforcement officers, and the balance of power was quite obviously skewed in their favor. You didn’t want to piss them off.

One time I went dancing in a club there and a cop shot a boy out front. Shot him dead. Just like that. I never knew the full story. I never saw any protests. I just knew there was one less student in Guanajuato that night.

This rattled me because, rightly or wrongly, I had grown up in white America. I was taught that cops were your friends. “Officer Friendly” came to my school. He told us that if we ever got lost, we should seek out the nearest policeman and everything would be okay. So being afraid of police never crossed my mind until I went to Mexico.

I hadn’t thought about this in years, but just the other day I realized I’m starting to feel this way in this country. Between the random shootings and the way the pipeline protesters are being treated, it doesn’t feel safe to be around law enforcement anymore. And Trump wants to escalate that to an alarming degree.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have to hide from public servants. I don’t want the balance of power to go past that tipping point, but it’s getting awfully close. Just saying.

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Pipeline protester being arrested. Sufficient use of force?

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