Imagine that house down the road, the one that you sometimes covet, where you wave to the guy when he’s on his mower, where the gardens are beautiful and the porch always seems to have a new coat of paint.
Now imagine it gets raided by the police one pleasant summer evening, and they drag everyone out in handcuffs, and it turns out that there’s a meth lab in the basement, Nazi paraphernalia in the dining room, AK-47s in the attic and clear evidence of a child pornography ring run out of the parlor. Not only that, but also the entire foundation of the house is infested with termites and mold. “Geez,” you think, as you watch the police cars pull away, “I sent my kids trick-or-treating there! And they always flew that big American flag out front. What’s the world coming to?”
That house down the road is America in the Trump era. The different ways in which people react to the raid represent the splintering of our culture.
First, there are the people who wake up daily, read the latest and are beside themselves with horror and fury. Everything comes as a shock. How could this have happened in our neighborhood without our knowledge?
Second, there are those people who knew all along that the external paint job was covering internal rot. Some may even have said so, but their words went largely unheeded because, after all, the gardens were lovely, and the guy seemed nice.
Third, of course, there are people who don’t believe a word of the accusations, blame the media and the investigation and ignore the evidence.
1. Shock and AwwwI’m going to posit that the shocked segment of the population is possibly the largest and to some extent crosses party lines. These people range from those who are avoiding social media because it’s so triggering to those who are daily calling for impeachment. Shock is valuable when it wakes people up and leads to action and activism. It is less useful when it masks the fact that a huge swath of our population doesn’t know its own history. If you think, for example, that America has never before separated children from their families, you should educate yourself about slavery or Indian Residential Schools.
2. We Told You SoSome of these people have worked a lifetime on issues of justice, equity and reform. They know that our sitting president is a symptom and not a cause and that ousting him through impeachment or even an election will not fix the underlying decay that allowed him to thrive. What paralyzes these folks, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone, are cynicism and anger, both of which they direct at their neighbors as easily as at the current administration.
3. Oh No He Didn’tStrangely, this group has recently grown to encompass the entire Republican Party at the national level. These people think the “We Told You So” crowd are “America haters,” as though one can love America in the abstract while hating a large percentage of its people. Not only are the “Oh Nos” ignorant of American history, but they have also rewritten it to match the Cold War lessons that inspired American children of the 1950s and early 1960s.
In this imagined world, American exceptionalism requires absolutely unquestioning obedience, and a big American flag can successfully cloak a multitude of sins. The multicultural world doesn’t yet exist, Dad is king of the household, and women don’t work but instead raise joyful freckled children who splash in mud (boys) or dress the cat in a bonnet (girls).
We’ve had racists in the White House before, whether their target was Native Americans, Chinese and Japanese immigrants or African Americans. We’ve had misogynists, too. What’s new is our belief that we had moved past all that, that our post-racial, post-sexist vision was more than an easily-stripped veneer.
Now imagine that you and the others in your neighborhood—the Shock and Awww folks, We Told You So folks and even a handful of Oh Nos—get together to fix up the house down the road, attacking it with detergent and concrete patching paste, chiseling out the rot, putting in new support beams and replacing all the plumbing.
There might be a fight at first, with the We Told You Sos preferring to raze the whole structure and the Oh Nos sure that a few pots of perennials would beautify the building enough for any new residents.
It takes time, but finally, together, you rebuild the house. And you vow to be more vigilant and selective about the next tenants for this property you all co-own.
Locally, Ithaca City Court Judge Scott Miller is the choice of the County Democrats to run for the new County Court Judgeship. He will appear without competition on Row A of the ballot in the election on Nov. 5.
Kathy Zahler is Director of Communications for the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. See the committee website at www.tcdemocrats.org.
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