Looking for America from my sh*thole of an office (a series)
“I’ve gone to look for America,” Simon and Garfunkel
So here I am, sitting in my shithole of an office wondering what happened to my country. I know it was around here somewhere when I went to sleep about a year ago, but I’ve looked everywhere this morning and I just can’t find it. I’ve got to get better about putting stuff away – because if I don’t find my country soon I’m afraid I’ll forget what it looks like. I’m worried it will turn into a sh*thole.
“Perhaps,” wrote a friend, “Trump’s recent unfiltered slur will spark a synapse to wake up a few dormant brains half waiting for a definitive reason. I say this, not because there haven’t already been definitive reasons – too many to count – but because this one might really have a chance.”
Ah, but pay attention, for the smokescreens are up. Some now deny he said it at all, which has – belatedly – become the official White House position and also apparently that of the Republican Party. Others have never denied he said it, instead signaling that only Trump has the guts to say what many people think, that the issue isn’t an “unfiltered slur” but a tough immigration policy. And then, as everyone knows, these statements excite at least a part of his base. This is how things get normalized in a lost country: “I never said it, I am being quoted out of context, and you know what I mean” – a wink here, a nod there, and on we go.
And so Paul Ryan can call Trump’s comment “very unfortunate” and then segue without even a hint of irony into a riff on his Irish ancestors – “a beautiful story of America . . . and what makes this country so exceptional and unique in the first place.”
And others can indignantly deny that Trump ever said “sh*thole” because – what they don’t tell you – is that they actually heard “sh*thouse.”
Good lord, is this what it’s come to in this country? Parsing vulgarities? How can we continue to debase both our language and ourselves? How long will our politicians change the subject to avoid taking any kind of a stand? How much of our dignity, our honor, our standing in the world are we willing to sacrifice for a 1% cut in a millionaire’s income tax or getting an anti-abortion justice on the Supreme Court or drilling for oil in the Alaskan wilderness? How much more of this can we stand before the sh*thole country is us?
We may not be great, but we are certainly better than this.
During this week, which begins with the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. and ends with the anniversary of Trump’s inaugural, I’m still looking for my country – you remember, the one that is anything but perfect but aspires to be better than it is, the one whose money says “e pluribus unum” and at whose gateway stands the Statue of Liberty, the one whose people, as Abraham Lincoln reminded us in closing his first inaugural, will once again soar with “the better angels of our nature,” the one, as King reminded us, where “all God’s children . . . will be able to join hands and sing.”
Damn, I know that country is around here somewhere. I’ll keep looking.
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861
"When we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.'"
Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963