On July 22, 2016, around the time of the Republican National Convention, I posted this to Facebook:
I spent my 4th of July evening on a plane flying home from across the country. When the sun was out, I saw craggy desert that gave way to the Rocky Mountains that became flat farmlands. When it got dark, far below me, blinking on and off all over like lots of multicolored fireflies, were the fireworks shows. From above, on its special night, I watched my country sparkle. And under the sparkling were the people, in all the various terrains within our borders, from all walks of life, enjoying a cozy summer evening and watching bright flashy colors across the sky, saying “ooh” and “ahh” and “oh, look, a plane”. Diverse yet with a common bond. That’s who we are. That’s what it means to be American.
Yet, we have a presidential candidate and the major political party behind him peddling paranoia, xenophobia, bigotry, greed, and violence. Worse still, these things are being touted as “American”, that these things are not only desirable but are part of our national identity, that they are what makes us “great”. And the thing is, as the primaries have shown us, this is resonating. Maybe it’s because so many, of any political persuasion, whether in support or against, really are buying the idea that this is what it means to be American.
So let’s maybe drop that idea already. It is a dangerous lie. Don’t lend it any credence. We’re a diverse land and people who value freedom and human rights and other nice stuff like that. And when some ultra-narcissistic loudmouth seeks the highest office in the land by supposedly speaking for us all when he promotes fear and hate and the ugly manifestations thereof, we have to say NO! SHUT THE FUCK UP AND SIT DOWN! THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE!
The Orange Thing’s campaign seemed like a bad parody of white conservative American intolerance, from the longing for some imagined “great” past to the hostility toward Hispanic and Muslim immigrants, with the explicit notion that those white conservatives who have these beliefs are the only “real” Americans, that the rest of us either don’t exist or aren’t important or don’t belong in our own country. The rest of us make up the vast majority of the country, and surely, I and so many others thought, what he’s saying is so blatantly toxic and against everything we’re about.
But then, on the night of November 8, 2016, I reshared that post with the added comment:
THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE!
*looks at electoral map*
The following January, a few hours after Orange Thing made it official in front of probably anyone, at a resistance event at WES, I read the above post in the open mic portion. In person, through a microphone, with my actual voice, to a room full of people, I recited: “…And when some ultra-narcissistic loudmouth seeks the highest office in the land by supposedly speaking for us all when he promotes fear and hate and the ugly manifestations thereof, we have to say NO! SHUT THE FUCK UP AND SIT DOWN! THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE!” Followed by a round of applause.
It’s a year and a half later, and so so so much has happened, much of which I don’t even remember because it’s been one thing after another with this administration. There isn’t exactly anything great going on, that’s for sure.
And yet… why do I still say “This is NOT who we are!”? “This” won the election, after all, if three million shy in the popular vote. In fact, mostly with the recent immigrant family separations and other related asshattery, there has been plenty of pushback on that statement, pointing out that this country’s history is in fact full of such asshattery, be it native genocide or slavery or Japanese internment or a bunch of other stuff. The point being that this is in fact what we are and what we’ve always been. That to say otherwise is to deny history and the occurrence of these atrocities.
First of all, about our country’s history being full of such asshattery, no shit. Except perhaps for whoever made that incredibly stupid Canadian textbook, native genocide is kind of common knowledge, though admittedly the specifics are often lesser known and would make you want to crawl into a hole.
Second of all, on the contrary to the assertion that statement is about denying history, we should be hyper aware of those specifics, to know the atrocities in all their horror that have been committed in this country’s name. Only by knowing the full story can we hope to make anything better. Which is what annoys me about the “but that is who we are!” people. What’s even the point? Arguing that is to normalize what’s being done, to declare it an indelible part of our national identity. Which the MAGA assholes would wholeheartedly agree with.
And that there is my whole point. In my post above, I said “Maybe it’s because so many, of any political persuasion, whether in support or against, really are buying the idea that this is what it means to be American.”
I don’t say “This is NOT who we are!” to gloss over history or the reality that there are people in this country who are exactly this.
I say it as a demand. A reclamation. A plea.
Because we are a big diverse country, far beyond the white conservative archetype to whom “Make America Great Again” is supposed to appeal. We’re black. We’re Muslim. We’re Jewish. We’re atheists. We’re Native American. We’re Spanish speakers. We’re Chinese speakers. We’re Arabic speakers. We’re disabled. We’re gay. We’re trans. We’re non-binary. We’re scientists. We’re journalists. We’re activists. We’re artists. We’re innovators. We’re travelers. We’re citizens of the world. We’re the ones who actually make this country great.
And, yes, we’re still also that white conservative working class, who has been fed lie after lie that everyone else is responsible for their economic hardships by those who are actually responsible or at least more in a position to do something about it. They are fed lie after lie that they and only they are the Real Americans, that the rest of us are Others who mean to ruin “their” land, and were tricked into electing someone more interested in fighting some imaginary culture war than actually improving anyone’s lives except for those who are already extremely privileged and well off.
I say it as a rejection of that culture war and of those who fan the flames of prejudice to serve their narcissistic power hunger. I say it as a rejection of those who undermine or deny that this country belongs to all of us, that we all belong here.
And, again, I don’t say it to at all deny history or truth. Today we celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the ideals of our nation while acknowledging those who wrote and signed it and led the American Revolution were slaveowners. We can rejoice in the American ideal while realizing where it falls short and who suffers from that. There is no contradiction there.
We can see the horrors our country has been responsible for and put a stop to what is still going on. We can denounce everything from white supremacy to forced patriotic displays. We can make it clear that, as Americans, this is NOT who we are and this is NOT what we want.
We can realize that a country that is so powerful can and should be an immense force for good in the world.
We can be the land of freedom and equality we’ve always wanted to be.
We can make it that way. Because it is OURS.
On this night, our country sparkles once again. Let’s make it shine!
This has been Day 42 of the 100 Days of Summer, Round 18.