Friday, June 15, 2018

Ashamed to Be an American


It happened so quickly.

Remember Election Night 2008? I do. I was proud of my country, proud of a people who had looked beyond race, who had chosen a President whose platform was about progress, inclusion, diversity, and thinking and talking through problems. For the first time in a decade, I was proud to be an American. That pride lasted for the better part of a year and then, just like that, it fell away.

I hadn't given up on my President, or the Congress who swept into office with him. Not most of them, anyway. I was thrilled that Washington was engaged in the hard work of expanding the social safety net to include health insurance, and while it frustrated me that so many Democratic legislators had bought the snake oil of the insurance company and were opposed to a single payer system, I still had hope that they could put together something that covered far more Americans than the previous system. But I was already growing jaded at the knee-jerk resistance of the Republican Party and, much more than that, at their cynical embrace of the reactionary Tea Party movement.

And then came the midterm election when Tea Partiers, riding the wave of misinformed fury over a reform that would cover far more of their members with low-cost or even no-cost health insurance, took back the House of Representatives.

And I began to be ashamed.

For most of my life, I have been a rural American, growing up in small farming communities and, after college, grad school, and seminary, returning to them as a preacher and teacher. These were my people, and I loved their pragmatism, candor, and warm hospitality. TheTea Party movement began to change that: I didn't recognize these older white people who became hysterical at the thought of expanding the Medicare benefit they enjoyed to include younger Americans. I was shocked at their gullibility, as they swallowed corporate distortions channeled through opportunistic Republican politicians.

Somehow, despite this rising tide of misinformed reactionaries punishing Congress for doing the right thing, we got the Affordable Care Act. But it came at the cost of all the other idealistic dreams of our young President. Over the remaining years of his administration, I watched him struggle against the Grand Obstructionist Party as they dug in their heels and rejected any possibility of reaching across the aisle for the good of all Americans. The only thing that mattered to them was power, and if it took burning down Washington to get it, that's what they'd do.

Apparently my rural people saw nothing wrong with this plan, either, as they continued to elect more and more conservative Republicans and, as the 2016 election approached, to egg on the primary scramble to see who could be the most fascist major party candidate in the history of the United States. That distinction fell, of course, to the wannabe autocrat who miraculously cobbled together just enough electoral votes to claim the Oval Office, despite losing the popular vote by a wide margin.

It's been a year and a half since Donald Trump took office, and everything he has done has served the sole purpose of completing the process that began with the Tea Party in 2009. He's fanned the flames of hostility toward persons of color, immigrants, non-Christians, and sexual minorities; turned the Immigration and Naturalization Service into a cadre of storm troopers; thrown out regulations that could slow or reverse the literally rising tide of melting ice caps; transformed the White House into a hateful den of corruption; embarrassed the nation internationally with his rejection of global partnerships that have been in place since the end of World War II; and embraced the regimes of murderous dictators. And that's just in the last week.

Yesterday I read that the border patrol has been telling refugee women in detention that their children are being taken to get a bath, when in fact they were being transported away from them. How can any American justify such institutional cruelty conducted in our name? These are Nazi death camp tactics. 

I've never been more ashamed to be an American, and that's saying a lot. I was an ex-patriate for two years, 1988-1990, a time when American forces invaded first Honduras, then Panama, and began the escalation to the first Gulf War. I had to tell my British friends again and again that these were the actions of a conservative administration, that they didn't represent the wishes of all Americans, and that as soon as I had a chance, I'd do my part to vote that warmonger out of office. Back in America, living in Texas, I found the jingoism to be almost more than I could bear: the nation was buying into lies about the righteousness of the Gulf War, a conflict that killed more than a thousand Iraqis for each American soldier who died, and created the conditions for the morass that misguided President's son plunged us into ten years later. But my people supported it enthusiastically.

My people also bought the lies the insurance industry used to sabotage the Clintons' health care initiative. They went on to support the first wave of Republican power-grabbing obstructionism, culminating in the impeachment fiasco. And then came the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they appeared to be fully on board for those debacles; the aforementioned Tea Party silliness; and the rise of Donald Trump. There's been a lot to be ashamed of.

But lying to mothers about locking their children in cages, saying they're just going to be bathed? Words cannot begin to express the shame I feel.

In less than a week, I'll be taking my shame back across the Atlantic for almost a month. I'll be back in my old British stomping grounds for ten days, have a few days in Belgium and Holland, and then return to Ghana for ten days there. As an ex-pat in the 1980s, I felt proud to represent a nation that, despite its misguided leaders, remained a paragon of democracy. I apologized many times for the misguided policies and statements of Presidents Reagan and Bush, but I still believed in the ideals and institutions they led.

Now I'm not so sure. I have a feeling I'll be shaking my head a lot in the next four weeks as I talk with Brits, Belgians, Ghanaians, and fellow musicians from around the world (I'll be in Ghana for an international music festival) about the abomination my nation has become in such a short time, and the shame I feel at the role the people who nurtured my childhood, who were my neighbors and friends for much of my adult life, have played in granting power to the monster who made it that way, and how many of them still support him enthusiastically as he rampages through Washington and across the globe, torching everything that is good and beautiful.

I don't know if there's enough tea in Britain, or enough beer in Belgium, to get the taste of this shame out of my mouth. Here's hoping the music will do the trick.

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