‘History is a Nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’
So says Stephan Daedalus in James Joyce’s Ulysses, in a moment in which he refuses to be politicized by the history of 800 years of British oppression of Ireland.
It puts things in perspective.
Election night. My fellow registered Democrats and I stand in a bar in Central London watching the results roll in. We have been working for weeks, and in fact most of my fellow Democrats for several months leading up to the election. We have regularly sat around a table littered at various points with laptops, bowls of potato chips, takeout coffees and sugary snacks, high up in a building let to the Democrats Abroad near Covent Garden, phonebanking our fellow Americans in order to get out the vote. Some of us — not me personally — have made thousands of calls. This is a massive global juggernaut of a campaign in which we have taken part. It has reached out to millions of compatriots worldwide.
Perched atop our liberal London eyrie, we steadfastly believe that our candidate is about to spread her flawed but moderately progressive wings and fly into history, heroically heralding in great swooping strides four to eight more years of Democratic residency in the White House.
Even as results roll in and we stand holding our collective breath, fingers crossed double behind backs, sugar plu, Joe Bidens dancing in our heads, even when we see the blue states crash blood red, even then we believe all is not lost, though our hearts are not as buoyant as they were when the evening started. Even as I leave my second party of the evening, the one I have got to after 2 am, the one where all the guests have already left in despair and the host ruefully sips wine and says ‘hath no man here a dagger for me?’ with his eyes, even then I think that the unions of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in my home state of Pennsylvania, which has not gone red for a generation, I feel even now most in our hour of need, the treacherous rednecks of Bucks, Monroe, Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties won’t betray us. Surely not now.
Only bleary eyed, in the cold, harsh political hangover of the next day after several precious but fitful hours of sleep the Ipad unusually laying beside me open to the BBC’s all night coverage, only then do I find that history is indeed a nightmare from which I am trying to awake all day long, and the corrosive politics of my country will once again away at itself and the world at large for a sustained and unpredictable amount of time.
Our eagle has flapped and fallen and we’ve all come tumbling down. Like the destruction of some intergalactic world, defenseless and full of reasonably progressive politics, it is as though a thousand leftist voices cry out in pain and then stop, disturbing the galactic balance of the force.
Well… the voices don’t stop for a good few weeks. They still haven’t.
Much to the displeasure of Trump voters and gloaters including my own Republican parents.
And well those voices shouldn’t stop.
The easiest path in the universe would be to throw in the towel, lie down and characterize your fellow citizens inbred piles of chewed up tobacco for brains as I did just six paragraphs ago, like the smug liberal piss ant than I am.
But we know what we have to do.
No. It’s not to rally together and bond, ‘healing wounds’ in some saccharine crusted patchwork quilt. Cauterize maybe. but not heal. Some wounds are worth keeping. Some pain is worth remembering.
We need to do what we did not do during the entire campaign. We must tell a compelling story about the terrible risk and the horrible threat that our own commander-in-chief poses to us as Americans. We need to keep raising our voices as loudly and clamorously as possible.
We need to keep on waking each other up from this nightmare of history, keep waking each other up every day and stay as woke as we can.
“But Dad, I read an article from Alternet that meticulously compiled Trump’s interviews and public statements. You want to know how often he lies? Statistically, he lies every five minutes.”
“Yeah?! Well She lies every two minutes.”
“Um… uh… um… well. That’s pretty bad.”
My father. Just a few weeks ago. Making a sound case that a vote for Hillary is just as bad as a vote for Trump.
I mean, come on, America! What do you do? And I’m not talking to just my small, closed-with-an-insularity-and-fascism-that-stinks-of-npr-the-guardian-the-new-york-times-and-radio-4, left wing, like-minded card carrying
traitors commies liberals. I mean the almost sensible compassionless, selfishly driven amiable and good tempered conservatives and libertarians that I haven’t unfriended and or stopped talking to.
How do you find traction in a post-fact, post-truth world of unreality and ignorance. Like the young Republican — with whom I had a bizarre exchange back in my college days in front of the Willard building in Penn State — who told me in front of my Green Party Stall that he’s an environmentalist and has a great bumper sticker that says ‘pave the rainforests’ right before hearty guffaws of laughter, sudden change to seriousness and then, “but seriously, what about the family planning clinics that are responsible for the fall of Western Civilisation?” with no irony whatsoever, the right wing modus operandi is science fiction.And aside from my old pal ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, how is a thinking person to respond?
It’s the bistro ship in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. It defies all laws of history, memory, logic and thought to drag its notions of fancy and imagination from the ununiverse of black space dust and anti-matter into existence and real form, looking odd, misshapen, lumpy and… well… not of this world.
How else do you explain Trump? He’s finally used enough of his underpaid workers from his various restaurants and hotels (whose nationalities he loves) to bring himself from the void of nothingness in between dimensions into reality like some hideously deformed, monstrous product of hate fostered over say… oh… I don’t know… the last eight years or so (that’s right, Republicans, it’s true. This is of your own making. What Republicans read my blog?).
I thought that if I was honest with my father for the first time about my political views (I’m in my… ahem…
late thirties), that we’d have a productive exchange of views, that we’d air our differences, that we’d get to know each other better. I mean, did my Dad really not know all these years that I was as far to the left as the hard shoulder of an American passing lane. Well as far to the left as a European Conservative. Well, as far to the left as an American socialist?
But my father, like so many Republicans so happy to trample all over Godwin, likes to pull arguments out of all sorts of places and as long as he emphasises them with enough conviction, brandish them as truth or fact or legitimate even. It’s difficult when truth gets in the way, so it’s easy to brush aside. Like when my mother also said over the summer:
“I’m hopeful. George W. Bush didn’t seem too smart at first but he did pretty good,” to which of course my reaction was absolute horror, or in the parlance of the post-truth millennial world, shocked face, shocked face, shocked face, pile of poop. How could my mother not know to say pretty well instead of pretty good? So embarrassing.
And how could bad, Northeastern Pennsylvanian grammar erase the truth from one’s mind of one of the most divisive presidents in history?
In the same way that the constant drip of Hannity, Dennis Miller and the strange, circuitous, other-worldly logic of Trump can make you think that he’s “not that bad”, that he’s going to “make America great” again and that he’s going to somehow “sort out the jobs for everyone” by closing us off to the world and tacitly encouraging a violent dystopian society in which dissenting voices are dragged out and silenced.
And I suppose this is why the best argument we have lies with the post-millenials, like my nine year old son, who, on our first morning of our annual trip to America, said to my father, “Grandpa, do you actually like Trump?”
My father cautiously replied with, “Well, I like some of his ideas,” to which my son, with great conviction responded with, “I don’t! I think he’s a big fat idiot and farthead!” and continued making fart and poop jokes about Trump for another ten minutes.
Out of the mouths of babes comes the most effective rebuttals to the childish arguments of the right.
Laughter, the most potent weapon.
That’s it. That is it.
Forty seven to forty what?
That is it. This needs a blog post.Where’s the computer?
All right, America fans. Here’s how it is.
I know you’re going to say, that I’m sitting on my great British Spotted Pony of a high horse.
Believe me. I know. I’ve been called Madonna for extolling the virtues of walking up the escalator on the left and condemning my compatriots for standing in the middle.
I’ve been called an ex-patriot for dripping contempt on the invasion of Afghanistan (by my family).
But as the saying goes, sticks and stones may break my bones, but this is freakin’ important, America.
It started as a farce and now it’s turned to the blackest, most tasteless joke in American history. Donald J Trump, controversy-ridden, provincial, racist, bigoted dealer in debt and misery, is a percentage point away from the highest office in the land.
And you put him there.
Okay. Okay. We put him there.
Now it’s time to undo the damage, folks.
Why, you ask? Why?! Because this is the greatest threat to America since The X Factor and if we don’t act now, it could prove almost as clear and present a danger to our way of life. Almost.
But here’s why else:
- As this study (that I will come back to in my Saturday blog) from Alternet categorically concludes, Trump is not the straight talker that his supporters think he is. He lies, on average, every five minutes, even in his sleep (okay, I made those last clause up, but it was to prove a point and you wouldn’t put it past him, would you?
- Do we really want one of the most blatantly racist men in the history of business and politics sitting in the oval office? No. no, we don’t. Not just when the world has spent eight years understanding that we’ve finally started to grow up about the question of race.
- He is also one of the most proudly stupid businessmen or politicians in history.
I know you think it isn’t a big deal and that Trump is a man of the people. I once got on a Guardian forum to defend our voting for George Dubya, telling British readers that it wasn’t that we were stupid, but that, unlike the British, we liked our politicians to be, not elevated above us, but just like us, if not below us. And if there was one thing we couldn’t say for Dubya, it was that he was above anyone intellectually.
But proudly stupid? Dubya was brainless, but unaware of his own brainlessness. Trump knows how stupid what he’s saying sounds and the louder he says it, the more it increases his credibility with his core, all of him understand that to say stupid things in public is to admit to your own humanity and therefore to be one of us (not one of me thanks).
As the saying toes, we get the leaders we deserve, compatriots. In our proud history of Charlie Parker and Bessie Smith, Edith Wharton and TS Eliot (that’s right I bet you all forgot he was one of us, didn’t you?), Thomas Edison and The Wright Brothers, in all that cultural and intellectual richness, don’t we deserve better than proud stupidity?
Look folks, I get it. You want someone exciting. You want someone ‘non-establishment’ and Hillary is neither of those things, but she is whipsmart, has the experience and the drive to make America greater than any Trumpian nightmare dystopian vision, while keeping us in some kind of relative harmony with the rest of the world.
For that, I’m with her. I know how I’m voting. Just think of me and the rest of the expats. We don’t want to return to the Bush years. Don’t make us sow Canadian flags on our backpacks again.
You don’t have to look far to find this strange and delusional man’s vision for the countryI have an abiding memory of Donald Trump that seems illustrative.
I am 12 years old. It is 1990. I am laying lazily on my grandmother’s sofa sheltering from the summer heat. The TV is on. I haven’t put it on, haven’t tuned in, haven’t consciously looked for a particular show. It’s just on. And I am vaguely aware, from my almost supine position on my grandmother’s sofa after spending all day at the beach near Point Pleasant, New Jersey and then collapsed from sheer, childish exhaustion, that there are sports commentators narrating the events of whatever I’m watching. I’m furthermore vaguely aware that there are athletes in spandex shorts and oblong helmets and brightly colored shirts and muscles rippling beneath spandex, that are pelting down asphalt, sweating their hearts out, determination and hope in their eyes.
I look up to my uncle, who has just walked in from the kitchen, probably with a sandwich in his hands. He takes one look at the TV and says to me what is perhaps one of the most politically perceptive insights I have ever had imparted to me.
‘Ah. The Tour de Trump. I think he must have been very insecure as a child. He seems to have a compulsive need to name everything after himself.’
My uncle then plops himself down on the couch and proceeds to finish his sandwich while watching the race. Nothing more that I know of was said about it, certainly not in the vast stores of my memory banks. But the more I reflect on it as I see that the Republican Party has given in to is baser urges and finally taken complete leave of its senses, shifting the responsibility of steering the thing to those who have a compulsive need to take a hard right towards the next rocky outcropping, the wiser my Uncle’s insight seems.
Because Trump did name everything after himself back then including his galactic failure of a cycling event. Trump Tower, Trump Marina, Taj Ma Trump… no wait a minute… the Trump mahal… hang on a sec. The point is, for a time in the 80s, before Trump decided to upend the monopoly board with everyone else’s pieces on it, declare bankruptcy, and start buying the world and charging us double the rent for living in it all over again, Atlantic City became Trump World, an idealistic utopian space into which we walked when we wanted to each perfect venture capitalist paradise.So, if actions are indeed stronger than words and if we take Trump’s purchase and branding of a whole city as his model for his vision of America, what do we learn, boys and girls? Well, do we want an America in which retirees gamble away their pension plans, trust funds and retirement savings on slim chances in which there are no real winners? Do we want an America that looks shiny from a certain angle, say, coming at us from the Eastern side of The Atlantic only to find that the sheen we project is only as substantial as the glass front of a seaside hotel and beyond that, we are nothing but hypnotised obese, complacent automatons, waddling or scooting to the next billboard without questioning whether our lives belong to a higher purpose? A homeland where beyond that sheen, our poor, our starving, and our huddled masses continue to huddle and continue to reach out their hands in supplication lumped together with the degenerates, the undesirables, and anyone else whose lifestyles or beliefs are alien to the interests of the United States, leaving The Great Gamesmaster in his great tower, the great big insecure child presiding over, and branding us all, from his little fiefdom on the Jersey shore to his great inward looking fiefdom smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic?
Oh, Republicans, my fellow Americans, my moderate peeps, where are you? I used to number among you. With his latest call to boycott Apple for their cowardly call to stand up for civil liberties, Trump turns my stomach. If I was still a young conservative, he would certainly have turned me liberal.
Our first stop is Bay Head. To shore ourselves up for the journey (the pun is entirely unintentional).
Before we had touched down in Newark for our annual summer sojourn to reconnect with the homeland, my cousin Samm — who lives in Ocean County, in the middle of where Sandy made landfall last year — and I had notionally talked about taking a drive down “The Barrier Island Route,” that stretch of road that traverses at least half of the narrow twenty mile long Barnegat Barrier Peninsula separating the bay from the Atlantic Ocean. Wikipedia calls it a “summer colony.” As a child, I only ever referred to it as Normandy Beach (one of the communities along the coastal line of the island) or more often, “Nana’s house.”
It felt like something I should do, something meaningful. I felt like I had lived a lot of important childhood moments there, a lot of growing up, a lot of sandcastle building, swinging, tag playing with waves, sitting by my Nana’s side for beach card games (they use elastic bands to make the cards stay in place. trust me. it works), secret passage exploring and boogie-boarding, ice-cream cone eating and crabbing, running against the wind of the sea with carefree, reckless abandon. I had not seen this place around which so many innocent and misty eyed memories were centered since the previous summer, before it had been ravaged by Superstorm Sandy.
It felt like something that would illuminate for me this cloudy shroud of mystery that obscured a significant part of the world for me, that I’d only seen in news reports or in photo albums on Facebook by those determined that people should see and know. Having not been there and having felt powerless and remote, I wanted to hear the echoes of the past, as close to when and where they happened as possible. I suppose I wanted things to have changed as little as possible. I wanted the stories of men and women who worked for emergency services, army engineers, firefighters, paramedics who had risked their lives, people whose homes had been literally shaken to the ground and whose lives and community has been rent into shreds; I think I wanted those stories to be the exception and perhaps even a slight exaggeration.
I suppose I wanted some sense of closure.
But now that it came to it, now that we were in Mueller’s Bakery in Bay Head, about to embark on our journey, I must confess, I’m feeling a little nervous. Unsure of what lies ahead, I see that Mueller’s has put up photos, one of the town of Bay Head, completely submerged. So. No exaggeration. No sensationalism in the disaster movie-like footage from Sandy. This was real.
Nothing prepares me for the island though. We pass plot after plot, some with gaping holes, some half-way in the process of reconstruction, some with warning tape stretching round them, some with barely skeletal foundations and a “for sale” sign added with bitter irony. A stunning landscape in which pieces have fallen away, as from a jigsaw, leaving gaping holes in my memory and the horizon. Where once it felt thriving and joyful, as we pass Mantoloking and Chadwick, finally slowing in Normandy Beach, things seem desolate and abandoned. We come to a stop on fifth avenue, a minute away from the bay where a swingset has succumbed to being tossed forever into the depths and the roads have recently been flooded. The place seems strangely calm. Houses seemed oddly together. Things have been reconstructed. Just. We sit with the engine idling in front of what used to be my grandmother’s house, sold years ago, and yet, still the psychological space of all those precious moments, still the heart of this area for me. My cousin and I pass commentary here and there on little differences, adjustments the current owners have made. The car settles into reflective silence. I turn to my son, sitting in the back and say, “Do you see that? That’s the house where your great-grandmother used to live.”
I think he tries to accept this knowledge with gravity before sighing heavily and saying, “Can we go to a park now?”
I laugh. We laugh. Gladly. If Jersey is reconstructing, it is to preserve that childlike innocence and joy of life, and to create space for new memories, new precious moments, new joys. In our Jerseyan “Spirit of the Blitz”, our steely eyed determination to rebuild, we rebuild so that our children can once again associate the shore with the kind of memories that make us treasure it so dearly in our hearts.
There are still many suffering the after effects of reconstruction or the inability to make efforts towards it. I rounded up a few stories about it here, an invitation here, and something here about the frustration individuals still feel in rebuilding, including the lovely and generous lady who provided the photographs for this post, Diane Hoffman, my grandmother’s neighbour for all those years when I was a slip of a youth, enjoying the seaside, and who only this week, a year after their storm savaged house blew away, are getting occupancy certificates.
And a special thank you to my cousin Samm, who I have mentioned before in connection with helping the recovery effort through Backpacks for Brick, for putting the APB out for photos.
“Do ya ever see any of those Muslims in London?”
We are sitting on my parents’ back deck. We have settled in for a warm and pleasant evening of beer, nibbles, and mildly racist banter by the pungent flicker of the citronella candle.
I know my father too well to think he is joking, but I am still blindsided by the brick bluntness of his solid granite wall of insularity that you would be hard pushed to surmount. He says “Muslims” like Jaques Cousteau would if he were talking about some rare multicellular organism found only in the deepest and most uninhabitable depths. I imagine the nature programs in my Dad’s head run as follows: “And here we have the rare and vicious Muslimus Britannicus Arabius Londinius, commonly referred to as the English Brown Muslim; not to be confused with its American cousin even though both depend on a parasitic relationship with other mammals in their environment.”
“Um…” I begin. How does one answer a question such as this? Have I ever seen any Muslims in the great and sprawling metropolitan capital of England and seat of governance of Great Britain? Do you ever see any Christians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Scientologists, Hardcore Zionists, Liberation Theologists, Dawkinsists, Seventh Day Adventists, Seventh Seal the movie fan clubbists, card-carrying Communists, frustrated Agnostics, Gnostic Christians, Coptic Christians, Eastern Orthodox mystics, Papal Cannibals, austere Protestant, tee totalling Northern Calvinists? Why not? Why not, damn it? Why can’t they all walk around with neon signs atop their heads and big brands burned into their foreheads from when they were all branded like sheep into their respective pens?
“Well…” I begin. “I’ve worked with Muslims. I’ve worked for Muslims and I’ve taught Muslims. In fact, one of my best students is called Hamza.” Thought my parents would like that last one in particular given all the trouble-making, freedom-hating, headline-hogging Hamzas that always seem to make it into the news here in the UK.
Plus, it’s just like saying, “I don’t roll like that, man. I’ve got plenty of Muslim friends.”
My Mom sees my liberal positioning and raises me a casual-racism, “well, I guess if he’s studying he can’t be making bombs at night.”
My face must look a bit like I’ve been handbagged by the old one-two from Ma and Pa American Londoner because my mother – not widely known for her awareness of the jarring abnormality of her worldview shrugs as if to say, “What’s your problem, mister? I’m just proclaiming the gospel of Regressive Thinkers of America and saying out loud what every other American is afraid to say.”
And it is possible (just possible) that my father’s question and my mother’s ponderous observation are entirely innocent. It is possible that I’ve been spoiled by the tolerant melting pot that is London. It is entirely possible that you can live atop a mountain with nothing but Fox to watch, pretzels and chips to eat, and racist neighbo(u)rs with which to “exchange views” to quite innocently hate Muslims. In the same way you might hate really evil aliens. Or zombies (though what with zombie chic I don’t see how you could) that are hungry for brains.
I should disclaim at this point that my father is a generous man, my mother a kind and nurturing woman. These thoughts seem to happily settle themselves and thrive like fungus in amongst the sweetest and sunniest of dispositions. My Dad is as innocent and sometimes as unintentionally funny as Archie Bunker (British Translation = Alf Garnet).
And let’s face it. Before 9/11, my parents probably didn’t know what a Muslim was beyond some vague notions of a hate figure in Iran. In fact, they probably couldn’t rightly tell you what a Muslim is now (I have called my father out for insisting he’d seen “them” running around town “in their turbans”). No more than I could have told you what a Communist was when I was seven and taught to hate them. No more than children can stand up and swear allegiance to a
piece of cloth (oh alright) symbol before they know what “allegiance” means.
It’s a simple thing to hate something you know little about and that doesn’t enter your sphere of existence from day to day. Pennsylvania has often been ranked number one for hate groups even with a low population of racial minorities. Draw what you may from that.
I’m not sure I can call my parents, as one kind reader wrote to me this week, “friendly racists… who mean no harm,” as they do seem to mean harm to all those who “hate freedom”, whatever that means. I’ve not met such an individual after nearly a decade in London. But what does scare me is that they are not harmless. They’ve got great big weapons: one vote a piece and plenty who think like them.
Beware America. Beware.
We are in Friendly’s, an American institution that provides serviceably mediocre food and miraculously pleasure-inducing concoctions called Fribbles. I am immensely content. I am on my annual summer pilgrimage back to the homeland and my younger brother, Paul has come out to dinner. The atmosphere is jovial, even though my parents are also out.
I usually know what subjects to avoid with Mom and Dad, such as politics, on which my father and I stand on violently different ends of the opinion spectrum on most issues, but I am relaxed, my guard is down, and it is July. The Trayvon Martin case is still fresh in the national consciousness, open and raw as a wound. I forget myself and marvel aloud, “Whew. That Trayvon Martin case. Pretty horrible stuff, huh?”
My Dad’s eyes widen in what I mistake for agreement, ‘Absolutely. Such a terrible case. I feel sorry for his family.’ I am touched by his uncharacteristic compassion until he continues, “I mean, if I was in his situation, I would’ve killed a black guy too.” I hear a record suddenly screech and come to a halt in my head. My brother’s fork drops from his hand to his plate with a loud clang.
My father looks around at all of us to make sure his assertion has had its intended effect, hooking his audience. There are several black families in close proximity to our table, some in clear throttling distance of my father. He continues chewing his rubbery steak vigorously and continues asserting with equal vigour. “Yeah. I’d have killed a black guy too in that situation. I definitely would have killed the black guy if I were Robert Zimmerman,” and then as an afterthought, perhaps registering slightly the collective horror on our faces, adds, “Or a white guy,” making no attempt to lower his voice.
Most people would look around and lower their volume. Most would know better than to say something like that out loud anyway. My father is not most people. He could not care less whether he is in the comfort of his own home where none of the public at large can spew racist bile even in context never mind utterances taken out of context. I am inclined to think that even people who agree with Dad know better than to say so out loud, in public. For I feel most would have the wherewithal to fear for their safety after exhibiting such behaviour. Frankly, I think even David Duke would know better than to say such things out loud.
But not my father. Oh no.
He is at the point in his life, his mid 70s, where he is both aware of his own impunity due to age (“Mommy, who is that racist firebrand in the corner?” “Oh, leave him alone dear. He’s from a different generation. Don’t stare now.”) and feels duty bound, utterly convinced of his own rightness, to “spread the word”. Ed Lawler, truth-teller, Christian soldier, saviour of the universe.
Likely as not, none of the other customers really care about what my father says as he launches into a tirade — before Paul or I can get over our collective shock and construct any kind of coherent response — about how much Trayvon Martin had it coming to him, how he was a gang member who bragged on video about how many people he had killed, about how he sold drugs and about how he was “high on drugs” that infamous night in Florida. In a furious internal race for a response, I discard the idea of reminding my father about that part in 12 Angry Men where Jack Lemmon proves to the rest of the jury that just because you talk about killing people doesn’t mean you are going to or have done the deed. Instead, I opt for a gentler, socratic method.
“But Dad, he would have had to have been high on PCP to act as ragingly violent as you say he did, wouldn’t he?”
Without missing even a half-beat, “That’s the least he was high on according to reports!” He’s worked up a righteous sanctimony at this point. What drugs, I wonder, that my Dad actually knows about, are worse than PCP for turning human beings into raging lunatics? Amanita Muscaria? Sure, my Dad has worked as a social worker with disadvantaged youth, but a narcotics squad consultant he is not.
As my blood pressure rises, I try a different tack. “But the emergency services told him not to approach the kid, didn’t they?” I think I manage a pretty reasonable tone.
“No! No they told him not to let the kid get away because the police were looking for him! He might have gone on to kill someone that night. He was into all sorts of gangs.” Should I mention that loyalty in sticking to one primary gang is generally valued as important in gang culture? Nah. Besides, facts are no longer germane to Dad’s argument.
Even as he makes this last comment, my mother, the June to my father’s Ward Cleaver (my parents’ relationship started in the early 60s and has worked its way backwards ever since), the woman who has most adeptly mastered the Nancy Reagan gaze of unquestioning adoration, even my mother is shaking her head in disagreement, “No Eddie. I think Pete’s right. The police…”
“No, let me finish,” Dad barks as we waves away my mother’s words with his fork, wielding it like an imperial sceptre.
He is in his irrational stride and has struck upon another favorite of the right wing debate playbook: emotional blackmail.
“Think about Paul! The guys who attacked him were black. They targeted Paul. If anyone’s guilty of racial profiling, it’s them. Paul could’ve sued them for discrimination.” Ah yes, from the sublime to the ridiculous in one short leap. The dogmatic AK 47 rifle of the conservative arsenal — reverse racism. My brother looks less than impressed that his experience of a few years before of being beaten to the point of hospitalisation being moved out as a pawn in our father’s great oratorical onslaught. Then comes the proverbial smoking sidearm.
“If Paul had a gun, he wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital. They would.”
“Actually,” Paul pipes up, “I’m glad I didn’t have a gun because frankly, I think I’d be dead by now if I had since they probably would have used it. On me.”
This neutralises Dad’s attack, momentarily, but long enough for me to seize the momentum and redirect the course of the conversation, “Well done!” I exclaim in my son’s direction. “You’ve eaten all your vegetables!” The boy beams with pride and my mother, rallying without hesitation, says, “I think someone deserves an ice cream.”
And with that, hostilities temporarily subside, but this conversation is not over. And I know it.
That evening, I find myself driven by rage to the internet, desperate to find cold, hard fact, verifiable, documented, evidential weaponry with which to penetrate my father’s impregnable fortress of fiction founded on hoodie wearing youths, brains addled with a toxic combination of THC and PCP, knives and guns drawn, rampaging through the streets looking to slaughter innocent white and Hispanic neighborhood watchers concealing weapons.
I search out my father’s insular illusions first, entering the search terms, “Trayvon Martin was high on PCP,” only to find that he has gorged himself on the gluttony of a steady diet of Fox, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Greg Gutfeld, and others derivatively drawing on this guest list for the party to take America back for the stuffy, rich and white. Sifting past, I finally find what I’m looking for, print out my research, study it, and tuck myself into bad with a sense of excitement and smugness.
I don’t have to wait long the next morning before My father somehow manages, in the uncannily circuitous way he has, to bring the topic of the conversation back to his own myopic vision. Like me, he has trouble letting go. Over breakfast:
“That’s why I say, this guy was on drugs. He represented a clear danger to society.”
I waste no time.
“Actually Dad, according to the toxicology report from the trial records, there were only trace amounts of THC in his system that could have been at best, three days old and therefore would not affected his behaviour at all. Plus, since it was THC, not PCP, it would have made him anything but aggressive.”
This gives him pause. But not long pause. Here peers down at me as he helps himself to more coffee, with obvious patience and a bit of condescension. Suddenly I am 11years old again. He is teaching me chess and I have just fallen into the trap of the devil’s crossroads, again. Oh Pete, his eyes seem to say, will you ever learn?
“Well, a toxicologist is not a psychologist. I worked with a psychologist for years who said that anyone on drugs would kill their own mother for their next hit. Believe me. Being on drugs affected Trayvon Martin and he had no morals.” Believe me. Hmmm. With this pronouncement, he shrugs and walks back into the kitchen to fetch the maple syrup,
“But did you know that Zimmerman rang the police 40 some odd times in the last couple years to alert them to his suspicions of random black people around him?” I call futilely after him, to which his response is another shrug, as though calling the cops every day to express suspicions about racial minorities is a daily occurrence in his life. Surely, we should all have a quota of calls to make to the police expressing some anxiety about random strangers of a different skin color?
His defences are back up. My attack of reason has failed. My father retired from New Jersey to the backwoods of Pennsylavania to isolate himself from the challenge of the outside world and his mind has remained comfortably, sitting, defensibly, atop the peaks of his mountain.
But then, I consider, perhaps if a position is unassailable by logic and refuses to give account for itself through vigorous interrogations, then perhaps it is not a position any rational, reasonable person would take anyway.
Cold comfort, as I sip my coffee and look over at my son, carelessly popping Cheerios into his mouth and I wonder about his cultural inheritance, and the world into which he is growing.
Good God, America.
I try to be a good ambassador. I really do. I argue that we have culture and intelligence and that we’re an ethnic melting pot built on the highest ideals. But you know what? You make it hard not to have contempt for you, my country, when things like this happen.
The internet is already awash with a raging war of words about Trayvor Martin, by individuals far wiser and more eloquent than myself, as is right and to be expected. This kind of case rips open the sensitive scar tissue of a nation. It sparks fears and riots and intense divisions.
One of the best that I’d seen though, shared by a friend on facebook earlier today was not from a pundit on either side, but from a great novelist. Ah those amazing observers of human behaviour and psychology. The storytellers. The novelists.
The empty calls for calm ring hollow in the midst of such clear injustice and since your various feeds will be saturated, I’ll be quick and share a poem I like an awful lot about what use words, poetry or beauty are in the face of such callous disregard for the principles of fairness. It’s called “For Saundra” by Nikki Giovanni. You’ve got to stick around for the end. That’s the kicker really. Enjoy.
i wanted to write
but revolution doesn’t lend
itself to be-bopping
then my neighbor
who thinks i hate
asked -do you ever write
tree poems – i like trees
so i thought
ill write a beautiful green tree poem
peeked from my window
to check the image
noticed the school yard was covered
no green -no trees grow
then, well, i thought the sky
ill do a big blue sky poem
but all the clouds have winged
low since no-Dick was elected
so i thought again
and it occured to me
maybe i shouldn’t write
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply
perhaps these are not poetic