Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why I Am Optimistic

"Nothing can be changed until you first recognize it."   -- James Baldwin.


The ascension of Donald Trump and his cohorts into the White House has certainly discouraged me much of the time and even depressed me on frequent occasions. Yet I have also been aware of a paradoxical feeling of optimism that occurs at rare fleeting moments. The odd thing about this is that the optimism has not been a matter of defiance—it's not an optimism I somehow muster in spite of the Trumpites.  No, the fact that we are now confronted with Donald Trump and his awful tribe is the very reason I'm optimistic.

Up to now, I haven't really understood exactly what this was about. On the face of things, there is precious little to be happy about when you look at the state of the nation.  But I now realized that we are are in the process of learning something valuable about ourselves as a nation because of Donald Trump. It's a little like learning that that awful itch in the middle of your back is not an allergy but is actually shingles. The recognition feels awful at first, but then you start strategizing on how to deal with it. 

We are beginning four years in which Donald Trump—with his lips and jaws being moved by Steve Bannon's hand and arm firmly stuffed up the President's rump—will be speaking in ways that will graphically show us the very worst things about our culture and prejudices. These are realities which America has really wanted to pretend did not exist, but will now confront in unavoidable ways. 

We are learning that there is a substantial part of America that hates the poor and the sick. This is not hyperbole in any way. Much of the current rhetoric is implying pretty openly now that if you are reach and healthy, it is because God likes you, and if you are poor or sick, it is your own fault. There is a decided strain of Manifest Destiny theory at work now in America. We genuinely believe that America should win, and the implication of this is that the rest of the world is expected to lose. This really is who we are.

Fully half of America does not believe in religious freedom or tolerance. We don't.  We don't want Muslims to be among us, and we don't really care much for Jewish people, either. We really want to be a Christian nation, and as a nation we have elected a President who pays lip service to what we secretly wanted to hear all along. This is really who we are.

America hates brown and black people. We will begin by barring and expelling Muslims from a few countries, and we'll build some kind of barb-wire fence to the south, but once this is successfully accomplished, it's a quick step to closing the doors on those pesky Nigerians and Congolese and Koreans. It is not a matter of feeling safe or wanting to protect jobs.  We simply don't like anyone non-white or non-Christian. This is really who we are.

America places no particular value on education. The President who speaks for us wants a Secretary of Education who does not believe in public education.  Despite our pretense at valuing education, many of us don't believe in evolution and don't believe pollution has any effect on climate despite scientific evidence. This is who we are. 

We don't like women very much. We are afraid and threatened by them, and, like our President, we would like them to "dress like women," and do what men tell them to do. This is not a purely male thing, really, because a great many voting women don't like themselves or their fellow women very much either, and are relieved that the President is setting rules of behavior for them. This is who we are. 

A lot of these truths have been present all along, but up to now we've uneasily pretended that we are better people than that. No more can we hide; we are quickly learning who we are as a nation, and the necessary lessons will be some unpleasant ones. This is the reason for my optimism, and I assure you that I do not say this with any sarcasm at all. Over the next four years, it will be very hard to avoid self-awareness about who we are as a nation, because we have a President who vocalizes our worst impulses. Self awareness is always a good thing. 

A local newspaper recently interviewed some small-town Minnesotans, and one woman in a little community of 10,000 people confessed that while she had voted for Trump largely because of nervousness about Somalis in Minnesota, she was now surprised about how bad she now felt about herself when the refugee ban went into effect. 

I was very encouraged when I read this article. The next four years will see a lot of us feeling bad about ourselves as we recognize things about ourselves through the example of our President. We will not be able to pretend that Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are "other." They speak for us. They are us.  This will prove to be a very good thing. Our President and his staff will be showing us our ignorance,  our prejudices, our intolerance, all our dirty little secrets, and I genuinely believe that learning these things about ourselves will only be a good thing in the long run. 

You cannot cure a horrible disease until you recognize you have it. 

12 comments:

  1. Wow. Great piece of writing, optimism that I hope has some basis in reality, as in reality about our 'average american'.

    I'm just unclear about their ability to achieve self-awareness, and recognize it for how far they have to change.

    I agree with you every time you wrote 'this is who we are'. I'm not as optimistic as to our ability to change, to grow, to evolve. Because this strain of virulence has existed within us for 200 years. Look at america in 1840, in 1917. A hundred years ago our gov't passed a immigration bill that makes drumph's look mild.

    It's a cycle that thankfully always seems to rebound, to swing the other way. But it's still there. And we're now having it in a time of communication between people of like disposition that didn't exist in 1917. They can coordinate, they can be refreshed and strength by the trump's tweets, his form of communication that doesn't allow question, only pronouncements. He rules by fiat.
    I do hope that with recognition comes awareness, then self-examination, then change. I'm not hopeful though.
    Mike

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Mike. There are of course the core Drumphites who will consistently defend this awfulness, or say it is a media invention. But I have heard enough quiet Trump voters who are already expressing shame to make me think some kind of change is possible.

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  2. Incredible writing, my friend. And you're right: DJT and friends are a mirror in many ways. But it remains true that the majority of Americans did not vote for this man, and I believe that makes a difference in the long run. Yes, many hate poor and sick people, brown and black people, science, education and women. But look how many are standing up for those very same things these days. We need more awareness and more action, but it is building.

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  3. You are right, of course. My point is that taking collective responsibility is our mutual duty. It will be a problem if our majority spends too much time in self-congratulation on being "not them." Not that this will be a problem for present company.

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  4. Excellent summary. I hope we can wait that long with all the saber rattling going on. I fear his bombast will get us in another protracted war.

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  5. Thank you for a very well stated case and a rationale for thinking a cure may be possible. I took hope when I read of the women who confessed to feeling bad about the refugee ban, drawing line as she did to her vote. I do indeed hope many of his supporters will come to their own such understanding.

    Four decades of journalism though tempers my view. Racism and the narrow minded thinking of intolerance
    is born of parent passing to child, as it has survived through this nation's history. What we can hope for is a generation of leadership that seeks to repudiate it, expunge it, call it the ignorance that it is. That is what we can hope for, but that is not who we are now. We have been that people before. We have had those leaders before. History reveals to us the need to be vigilant, take nothing for granted and perpetually fight the cretins, haters and barbarians.

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  6. An 'eyes-open' view of your part of humanity, and very well put. But America, you're not alone! I fear that the relationship that exists between the US and Europe is more than just blood-lines and DNA. There is hope, but the cost of realising that hope is going to be massive. Change will occur if there appears to be no acceptable alternative to carrying on in the same old ways. Learning that lesson is difficult enough on an individual scale. On a national scale? It will not be a return to some illusory past, but a great stride into a wonderful future......for all of us. The time to change is now, and now, and now.

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  7. Admitting that we have a problem is the first step. Nicely written.

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  8. Baldwin quote is certainly apropos. I'm reminded of a line from "Merchant of Venice" too: "...when he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast." I hope the solution is forthcoming.

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  9. I like your writing and agree that we are going to learn a lot in the next four years. Hopefully, we will seek to improve ourselves and will be able to remove him from the White House without major conflict

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  10. You are so right about us having a horrible disease. It really could be an opportunity for meaningful change. It may be painful for a lot of people, but the prevailing attitude of "Let them eat cake" will eventually cause the masses to rise up, in one manner or another. We all know what happened to Ms. Antoinette right? Eventually, many of the people who thought that Trump was their salvation, will realize they've been sold a bill goods. When that happens things could even get uglier on the streets than they currently are.

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