America, Where Are You?

America is supposed to be better than this.

Where is the country, young, scrappy, and hungry, that stood up to a mad king and against all odds, won its independence? The country which has a statue at one of its busiest ports challenging the world to give us its tired and poor, its huddled masses yearning to be free? Where is the country of my great-grandparents, which took those immigrant lives and pushed them through a sieve of red white and blue until they bled apple pie? Where is the country which hails itself as a beacon of democracy and freedom, as bright as Liberty’s torch shining over New York harbor?

We are supposed to be better than this.

Where is the hunger to fix the problems pulling the country apart at the seams? Where is the drive to do better, to take care of our own whether they’re in Puerto Rico or Houston or Las Vegas? Or Iowa, Mississippi or Maine. Where is the innovative thinking we need to overcome problems like gun violence and systemic racism? Where is the scrappiness to face those challenges, the conviction to overcome them?

At what point will this great American experiment be deemed a failure? At what point will the absolute right of the individual citizen be responsible for the downfall of a nation?

I say this as an American who loves my country: I think we are very close to that point. I think we have championed the right of the individual over the rights of the whole for too long, and we are paying the price. Or rather the people in Las Vegas are paying the price, and the citizens of Puerto Rico, the families who bury their black sons and daughters are paying the price. Children who shoot themselves with unsecured guns, women who are killed by abusive partners, transgender citizens who are murdered by fellow citizens. People without healthcare. Citizens in the wealthiest nation in the world going hungry, going without.

We are all paying the price because we are all worse off.

Maybe some of us take nicer vacations or have more square footage. Maybe some have a nice chunk of retirement change. But this idea that our rights as individuals, to speech or guns or bigotry in the name of religious freedom comes before our unity as a whole, as a nation?

That idea is going to kill us as sure as a stake through the country’s heart.

We now accept mass shootings as a way of  life, especially those carried out by white male terrorists. We find neat little ways of compartmentalizing the actions of those men by giving them titles like ‘lone wolf’. By humanizing them in the narrative with occupations and family stories. And so it’s easier to think it’s yet again a one-off thing. There was nothing to stop it, it won’t happen again.

Until it does.

And does.

And does.

And does.

Mass shootings are now as American as baseball and McDonald’s. We expect them. We’re unsurprised by them. We pray and we send thoughts and push aside the fact that it is not going to go away right out of our minds.

Where is the problem solving? Where’s the courage to fix this? Where are the goddamn bootstraps I hear so much about? Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, but give me young, scrappy and hungry too.

In the aftermath which will follow Las Vegas, the same tired, old arguments will be trotted out. But the real tragedy, beyond the lives of the fifty-eight people lost is this:

Too many Americans have become immune. Inoculated against the bloodshed. Caring too much about the imagined individual restrictions than about the life of a nation. We’ve finally managed the neat, little trick of turning so far inward that we’ve ceased to see outward.

 

We have our own mad king now, who likes gold thrones just as much as George III. But Las Vegas did not happen because of the Trump administration. NFL protests are not happening because of it. I am not laying blame for any of this at the feet of the Trump administration.

Nor do I think the administration is capable of doing a damn thing about staunching the blood either.

So we will continue our descent. Our empathy will continue to atrophy. Our belief in the individual over all else, even the life of our neighbor, our lover, our child. Until there is nothing left but an island full of individuals who come up with ever new Hunger Games style ways of killing one another because ….somehow, someone somewhere will convince those remaining Americans it’s within their rights to do so.

Or we can channel those early founding fathers and stand up.

America, don’t throw away your shot.

 

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The Greatest American Hero

3cc7b7ce27e9afd3a92df0889df83d9fThere was a time not that long ago when stories about America were stories of discovery, of  exploration, of destiny. There was a time when stories about America were of the land: the rich, fertile soil of the Great Plains, the snow-capped peaks of mountain ranges in the west, the sun-kissed steel of skyscraper girders rising in the East. There was a time when stories about America were filled with characters who tilled and toiled, not just the land, but the ideals that grew alongside those amber waves of grain. There was a time when stories about America were filled with great American heroes: heroes who nurtured those ideals, who watched over them, let them lay fallow when they needed time to replenish, recognized when they were ripe for harvesting.

What stories do we tell now?

Yesterday the story was of a high school near Portland, Oregon. A few days before the story was of a Wal-Mart in Las Vegas. Two weeks ago the story was about a university in Santa Barbara. The stories are of shopping malls, of office buildings, of schools. The stories are of the dead, of the injured, of the scarred. The stories are of communities devastated, yet divided. The stories have the same refrain: it is inevitable, it is the norm, it is the new way of life.

We, the people. We, Americans. We have been duped. We have been lulled and shushed and lied to. We have been bamboozled into believing in the impenetrability of a long ago written sentence. By forgoing all else in order to perpetuate that sentence, we have been systematically and quietly tricked into surrendering the keystone of the American Dream. We have been swindled into giving up hope.

Blame who you like. The gun lobby, the NRA, the Christian right, the Tea Party. Blame homosexuals, or Muslims or aliens. The time is long past for blame. When schools are being shot up on a regular basis, it is too late for blame. The truth is, no lobby, no association, no one fraction of a political party or percentage of religious group is that strong. We have been made to think they are. We have been made to think there is nothing to be done, no compromise to be reached. We have been made to give up hope, accept things as they are, adjust to the new status quo. We have stopped seeking a solution because it is too hard, too improbable, too impossible. But the truth is, there is nothing strong enough to stand up to the sound of 365 million voices. But only if they want to be heard.

We are a country at war. Not with another country, not even with each other. We are not at war with terrorists or drugs or the economy. We are not at war over a health care system or gay rights or a welfare state. We are at war with our own ideals; our ideals of a bucolic American life where it is possible for each and every citizen to achieve the American Dream if only they work hard enough.We have been tricked into protecting that ideal at any cost, even if that cost is the lives of our children, our fathers, our mothers, our teachers. We have been led astray, told that those ideals are worth dying for, worth watching our children die for.

They are wrong.

If school children in a country across the globe were being routinely slaughtered, if the citizens of that country looked on in helplessness and said “it is inevitable”, we would demand action. Yet it is happening on our doorstep, time and time again. In our schools, in our shops, in our places of business, on our streets and in our homes.

Guns don’t kill people. It’s not guns that are the problem, it’s mental illness. The only way to protect yourself from gun violence is to arm yourself with a gun. Arm your teacher, arm your principal. Arm your guards. Bullet proof blankets for school children. And yet we do not see ourselves as a country at war?

This is not a way of life to be protected. This is a way of death: death of a dream, of that great ideal. It is the death of hope.

Every man, woman and child needs to stand up and shout. Every mother and father and teacher and social worker needs to stand up and shout. Every, single citizen who believes that this lie, this lie that we need to sacrifice our citizens to an outdated and misconstrued ideal must stand up and shout.

We can sleep at night because it won’t happen to us. It won’t happen in our town, in our school, in our shopping mall or church or mosque. Perhaps they thought that in Oregon a few days ago, or in Sandy Hook eighteen months ago. Do not be placated, patted on the head and sent to bed. Stand up. Scream. Shout. Demand a change.

Gun control, gun regulations, the banning of assault weapons is not the magic answer. But it is a start. It is a tourniquet to staunch the flow of blood until you find and fix the wound.

The time has come for stories about America to once again be about dreams, about destiny, about hope. The time has come for a Great American heroes. You do not need a cape to be a hero, or a letter on your chest. You only need to make sure you are loud enough to be are heard. The greatest American hero is you.

And you.

And you.

But only if you stand up for what is right.