Monday, February 3, 2014

I'm Changing My Attitude



                                                                                                
                                                


I am 67 years old. I've lived through good times and bad times in my country - wars and assassinations and terrorist attacks and injustices. Sometimes, I've been hugely  proud of our accomplishments and sometimes, I've been ashamed when we failed to live up to our principles. That's the way it is with anything or anyone you love. You don't expect perfection. You support them through their successes and their failures. You applaud their strengths and tolerate their weaknesses, always hoping the weaknesses will turn into strength.

I've lived through presidential administrations I admired and through administrations I disagreed with. But I didn't think the ones I admired were faultless and I didn't think the ones I disagreed with were always wrong. And in the end, it didn't matter what I thought. The voters had the final say and when they spoke, that was that. Impeachment was considered something only to be contemplated in the event of truly high crimes, not simply because we disapproved of a president's policy goals.

I worry this question like a dog with a bone: have Americans changed or does our access to cable news and social media simply emphasize our differences? Have we always been so vicious about our presidents, our government and one another or did we simply not have access to articulate our feelings, except in a stray letter to the editor, so that our loathing of one another wasn't as noticeable?

I usually scroll through Facebook once in the morning and once at night and I come out feeling hopeless and helpless about my country. Have we always scorned one another so intensely over political and social disagreements? Were there always significant pockets of people who not only disagreed with, but despised our various presidents? Were we simply not aware of the the demeaning names by which other presidents were known among the true believers - names like Obummer and the Mooch? Were there whole segments of society who cheered when JFK was assassinated, as I think there would be if it was Obama, or do we simply have means to voice our feelings in ways we didn't then?

Did we take everything so seriously? Would so many of us have turned on Coke for a commercial in which America the Beautiful was sung in languages besides English? Really? An ad that is meant to be a show of American solidarity (e pluribus unum is our national motto, after all, not In God We Trust) is turned into a jingoistic screed? Or a cereal ad is trashed because it shows a mixed race family?

Am I seeing the past through rose-colored glasses? My conclusion is that I probably am. I'm forgetting the ugly people screaming hurtful, hateful things at black children guilty only of wanting to go to school. And the beatings and hoses and dogs and clubs that were used and the deaths that resulted from the civil rights movement.

I'm forgetting the violent clashes between anti-war protesters and the pro-war crowd and the killing of students at Kent State.

I'm forgetting the contemptuous name-calling of women by politicians and others when we were fighting for equal rights. Rush Limbaugh is no different than the blowhards back then, he just has a larger microphone.

I'm forgetting that Trayvon Martin was only one in a long, long line of black boys sacrificed for our prejudice.

I'm forgetting that many of our mental hospitals were hell holes and many of our prison were brutal pits.

I'm forgetting that most gays were afraid to come out of the closet.

When I think about it like that, I feel better. I'm convinced America is improving and will continue to evolve.

The nasty voices are louder but I believe there are fewer of them. Gays are visible now - in our families, in our military, in our workplaces. Gay marriage rights are sweeping the country.  

We still have pockets of virulent racism but we did, after all, elect a black president...twice.

The glass ceiling isn't broken but it is cracked. Most of us can contemplate a woman president with equanimity, which would not have been possible in the 60's or 70's.

Joe Arpaio is an anachronism now, not a representative.

A majority of us are proud of the melting pot that is the U.S. We believe those diverse voice in the Super Bowl Coke commercial make us stronger, not weaker.

The more the haters feel themselves being overtaken, the more maniacal their screaming becomes. I have determined to take it as a sign that they know they are going down.