Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hard Times Make for Hard People

I have a former colleague, reunited via the Internet some years back, with whom I worked when we were both a lot younger. He still keeps a hand in the news business and passes along with a discouraging frequency more and more stridently fantastic statements from his circle of friends and acquaintances engaged in America's new #1 blood sport, Stomp the Leaders. I'm not sure when the game started, but I don't remember it being as vicious when I first came back the the USA in 1991, but then again I wasn't as callous myself as I am now. 

I confess to not paying much attention as the tone heated up through the years-especially when so many public figures, whom it was fashionable to mock, proved to be so filled with frailities and foibles. Maybe just coincidence that as the Good Ship Lollipop started taking on water (that looked an awful lot like red ink) as the sub-prime meltdown got its swerve on and the dominoes started toppling. When the dust had momentarily cleared, we had a black person as the President and a lot of (other) angry middle-aged white guys unelected to anything other than the big chair in a TV studio. 

Not really surprising that the news cycles all head in the same direction as water down the plynth. It's physics, really: for there to be an inside there has to be an outside, and if there isn’t, we make one up. We no longer have to make any effort in news broadcasting to avoid being partisan. As a matter of fact, our corporate masters insist that we be even more so. Dittoheads bring dollars (as do whatever the Olbermann (Oxy) morons  are called). I think I once was the most cynical man on earth. I've since gotten schooled so often by the real wizards I should be buying lunches for the pompous stuffed shirts on the Big Screen, Failed and Malice.  

There’s safety in numbers when we learn to divide—we are, as a nation, very uncomfortable in our skins these days and we should be. Many of us weren’t getting an especially heaping helping of the Promised Land  when times were good-but all of us got something. When the bottom dropped out and the well-to-do were reduced to hands-to-mouths, those already at the bottom discovered, gravity be damned there is farther to fall. 

We naturally assume someone has to be to blame for what happened to our country in these last twenty years. When what really happened was we sold the red, the white and the blue for green, a little bit at a time every day-not even consciously or deliberately all the time, it just worked out that way. We’re sure as hell not gonna ever cowboy up and admit that we did this to ourselves and to one another. 

Earlier this week there was a story of a Pew Research Survey that 18% of Americans surveyed believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim. And, at least for them (and maybe more) believing it to be so is the same thing as it being so, of course he is! I’m surprised more of us don’t believe the President is a relative of Osama bin Laden (I mean look at that first name). America has long been the frat boy in the club of nations—certainly charming, reasonably athletic (when sober) and generous to a fault-but not a big thinker, more of a brawn-than-brains nation. We're not big on critical thinking, we like to get along and that means we go along, sometimes farther than we should, or even can. 

Might I suggest to all the haters and all the lovers, shut up (well, that too, but that's not my point) Barack Obama, not Al Gore, would have been the perfect person to succeed Bill Clinton. Neither he nor we were ready then. Instead we chose him because both he and we were different at a time when we’d convinced ourselves that different must mean better (There are probably Yankees fans who blame GWB when the Pinstripers didn't win the World Series in the aftermath of 9/11.)

Sadly, we more and more of us now "hate" (a word that has lost its meaning much like 'warrior' when uttered  during football season) President Obama for the same reason we voted for him: he is different. He may look like we do (metaphorically; see Merchant of Venice for historic antecedent), and talk like we do, but you know what it is? He’s not one of us. And being different is now a crime. 

We are on a dark ride, and it’s going to get a lot darker before, if ever, it gets light again. We have all these noisemakers shrieking but never proving facts that they make up at the top of their lungs and they never give up and they never run out of steam. Perpetual hot air balloons, some one fetch Phileas Fogg. And those of us trying to hold out and hold on to what we are as a nation are tired and battered. It takes so much more energy and strength to be a light instead of a horn. Ne ingrediens bastardnis, do NOT let the bastards grind you down.
-bill kenny

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