What is “The American Character”?

I’ve started this column several times, but the news keeps getting ahead of me. And not in a good way. Not something juicy like a candidate dropping out or yet another “brain harvesting” meltdown from what’s-her-name.

Syrian refugee crisis? That is SO last month.

The Paris attacks are now two (or is it three?) mass shootings in the past. By the time you read this, the number could easily be higher. It’s an epidemic in some ways like global warming: everyone can see it happening but a frightening number of us refuse to acknowledge what’s right in front our noses.

And three shootings? That’s just a toe-dip into this wretched bucket of blood. The press obsesses on the most horrific events, such as the 14 people killed in San Bernadino, CA. But there have been more officially designated  “mass murders” (at least four people killed) in 2015 than days in the year so far. That’s obscene.

Is there anything more obscene than that number? Oh, yes.

– That there is an official designation for mass murder, transforming tragedies into statistics.
– That both sides of the gun control debate have been raising campaign money off these deaths, transforming politics into a blood sport.

Who am I fooling? There is nothing new or unique about either of those aspects.

One of my false starts led off with the no-longer-deniable connection between Republican campaign rhetoric and actual murder. This affirmed by the Colorado Springs shooter’s babbling about “no more baby parts” to the police as they took him into custody, on the day that he killed three people.

Oh wait, only three people? That’s not an officially designated mass murder!

In court a week later, the shooter bellowed his status as “a soldier for the babies” to the judge. My memory of the early debates recalls that Huckabee, Fiorina and Graham each put forth ugly lies about for-profit sale of dead baby limbs and organs and—wait for it—brains.

The Planned Parenthood murderer will no doubt be portrayed as a madman by his defense lawyer. But the truth is: his views are faithfully representative of way too many Americans. And worse, amplified by candidates only too willing to pander.

Gun control advocates weighed in too, of course. Ted Cruz’s response was a cunning and calculated jaw dropper: not only did he carefully imply his approval of the Planned Parenthood killings, he blamed The Left for them. “The guy was a cross-dressing, transgender Democrat,” Cruz riffed when pressed on his views.

He got even more inventive with radio host Hugh Hewitt: most killers are Democrats. And he’s gone up in the polls as well. But wait, there’s even more: Senate Republicans just voted down denying gun purchase rights to people on the no-fly list. Really?

Their argument: Decent Americans might be wrongly denied the right to purchase weapons.
Mine: But you’re okay if a real terrorist on that list buys a gun. Really?

Ironic that it doesn’t matter anyway: anyone can buy firearms at any of the thousands of gun shows every year, with no background check at all. And let’s not ignore buying from private individuals, which likely gets around sales tax as well.

Here’s something you will never, ever hear on right-wing radio or TV: If Paris and San Bernadino are “radical Islamic terrorism,” then the Planned Parenthood attack must be labeled, “radical Christian terrorism.”

I considered writing about the nearly universal disapproval of Trump’s “ban-all-Muslims plan.” But plenty of ink has been spilled on that subject, too… Did the Donald slide all the way to fascism? And where does Jeb “admit only Christian refugees” Bush get off criticizing him?

In fact, the disapproval has been far from universal. Talk radio lit up in Trump’s favor. And while candidates may disapprove of his message, they tripped over themselves assuring us support of any Republican nominee.

That’s opposed to the GOP party elders, who are busy figuring out how to broker the nomination to that candidate named Anyone But Trump.

But let’s consider Trump’s ban: he added when pressed, “Yes. All Muslims.” That would mean that Muslims who are U.S. soldiers stationed overseas would be barred from returning to the nation they’ve been risking life and limb to defend. I’m waiting to read that U.S. citizen Muslims who are here now could stay—they would merely have to wear crescents sewn into the breast of their uniforms.

There’s an outside chance that Herr Trump has revised all that by the time you read this. He’s famous for walking back and even denying his outrageous positions, when it dawns on him that he’s said something unacceptable. But it won’t this time… there’s no need. He shot upward in the polls.

Which brings me around, finally, to my question in the title of this edition: What exactly IS “The American Character”?

Donald Trump’s proposed blanket ban on Muslims in the USA initially met with bipartisan public horror. Condemned by Speaker Paul Ryan, by candidate Hillary Clinton, even by worse-than-Voldemort Dick Cheney. Doesn’t that make you think positive things about our national character? We are the good guys. Yes!

But Rachel Maddow opened her story on that very subject with a long list of victimized minorities: blacks, Irish, Chinese, Italians, Mexicans. There are more. And there is a pattern: immigrants come; they are reviled by the white Europeans but employed for “slave wages.”

Abolitionists condemned the South for depending on nearly free labor to prop up their economy, but America has been doing it ever since as well. Off-shoring of jobs and manufacturing is merely the next step in that same process, finding ways around unions, minimum wage laws, and any other attempts to force humane treatment of workers.

I’ve come to realize that I grew up in a bubble: one that featured an apparently benevolent U.S.A., in that supposedly idyllic time immediately following World War II. The greatest generation did indeed save the world from the Nazis, and the U.S. played a major role in helping the world recover from that horror.

It wasn’t a selfless gesture of altruism, of course—under the Marshall Plan, for example, U.S. banks loaned money to Europe to rebuild, and then profited when it was paid back—but we did manage to look like The Good Guy. And the Cold War gave us an easy-to-contrast bad guy in the Soviet Union.

Like many baby boomers, I spent my most formative years in the sixties, and despite the massive culture clash (or maybe because of it), I grew up thinking that this nation was a lot more liberal and progressive and tolerant than I’ve observed since Reagan was elected.

And still I fantasize. I’m not alone!

But in fact, the U.S.A. has spent most of its history bullying others—beginning with the original sin of slavery and on to outright thievery of an entire continent. Our habit of breaking treaty after treaty that we made with the mis-named Indians, justified with our God-given Manifest Destiny, never made it into the history books I read in school. They all whitewashed it as American guts and pioneer spirit. And we have the brazen cluelessness to name our sports teams and even the streets after the peoples we’ve robbed and killed.

We’ve rushed into war on false pretenses so often—from “Remember the Maine” that started the Spanish-American War over 100 years ago to the Gulf of Tonkin incident that triggered our escalation of the Vietnam War in 1964 to our invasion of Iraq following the 9/11 attacks.

We keep walking over people in ways that we would never allow them to walk over us. It is done on our behalf and financed by our taxes. Here’s an article that attempts to explain why we put up with this behavior: our belief in our own goodness puts blinders on us.

Until Americans are willing to face the truth of their actual history, politics will reflect the fictions that lend themselves to bad policy, not to mention crazy campaign rhetoric that drags us still further from reality. That’s the aspect of Trump that really scares me: he hasn’t invented any attitudes or viewpoints, he’s merely stirred up what we have always been–and will be long after Trump has fallen back down into the mud from whence he came.

Next time, I hope to be amusing again. There’s another Republican debate this week. Tribal challenge!

Political Survivor #28

Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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