|Featured Columnist – Meditations
I had a cousin, born a few days after I was in the same Midwestern town, with whom I was close growing up. In some ways Mike and I were as different as night and day, but in other ways, especially in political views, we thought alike.
The last time I saw Mike healthy was on a visit to my native Michigan two years into Bush’s first term. All the available cousins got together one night and went out to dinner.
Mike was a lawyer. His father, who was also a lawyer, one who scraped by all his working life, came up with a scheme that tapped into the housing boom, involving legal fees for refinancing mortgages for big companies. Mike, having six kids, jumped in with both feet and starting making money hand over fist.
He told me about the system at the Irish wake for his father, one of my two favorite uncles. He said he was going to work his butt off for ten years and then retire. At 3 am after a few beers (Mike was famous for all-night drinking sessions when the relatives got together), I told him that in my experience that kind of plan never works in the long run.
I couldn’t see how anyone, especially someone with small children, could plan on working 16 and 18 hour days for ten years without some kind of blowback. Sadly, after five years of overwork, Mike contracted some form of inoperable cancer, which took five excruciating years to kill him.
In attendance at the dinner in question was one of my brother-in-laws that supported George Bush. Even worse, he’s a true Rush lush, a Limbaugh dumbo.
Mike made quick work of my brother-in-law’s arguments, and the Rush-worshipper didn’t gush another word as Mike and I discussed the cultural and political implications of George W. Bush. At the culmination of our discussion, Mike bellowed, “I want my country back!”
That was the first time I’d heard someone utter that phrase. While I understood the sentiment, I also understood that George W. Bush was an inevitable manifestation of the cancer that had taken hold in America. I said as much to Mike.
After a few months back in California, I learned that Mike had gotten very ill. Cancer was detected, but a platoon of doctors weren’t able to make a definitive diagnosis.
Mike was further to the left in his political views than I am, so I’m sure he’s spinning in his grave now that his sentiment has been appropriated by the far right in America.
Even mainstream commentators in the smudge and grudge media have begun reporting that they are encountering a great many flag-waving kooks shouting: “I want my country back!”
This is the same loopy fifth of the population that continues to insist that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, which is their way of saying he’s president illegitimately. Fully unpacking that scurrilous accusation involves understanding the dark currents of American racism, anti-intellectualism, exceptionalism, and xenophobia.
One can’t help but wonder if Obama’s “complete faith in the American people” has been shaken. Probably not, at least consciously. After all, it’s easier to turn on your base, as Barack’s mouthpiece Robert Gibbs demonstrated last week, than examine your core beliefs and worldview.
Of course there is the legitimate question of whether Barack really believed that stuff about the American people at all.
There’s a curious commonality between cousin Mike’s left-wing cry, and the right-wing echo. Both have, at their core, a lament for a national image that’s been lost. On the left, it’s the ideal of ‘the country America could be;’ on the right, it’s the triumphalist notion of a nation that outshines all other nations to such a degree that it belongs in a category of its own.
Even so one wonders, why is the fiction and fantasy at the core of both worldviews so important? Why don’t Americans let go of the image and ideal?
Because at bottom this isn’t an American pattern or trait. National and other identifications and self-images still rule the human mind. And as long as they do, the consciousness of man will darken.
Countries are gone. We can’t get them back as primary sources of identification. They are structures of function now, that’s all.
Man is a herd animal; human beings stand alone. And each person leaves the dark current of man one at a time.
Humankind is at a crossroads, with only one way ahead. Man has to die for humanity to flower. We can’t put off radical change any longer.