Simon and Garfunkel, "America"

>> Friday, June 15, 2012





Or something like this. I have a job and am too old to get on a bus going nowhere or hitchhike from Saginaw.

Still, the sense of aimlessness.

A friend posted a link to Salon's coverage of the latest foaminess from Iowa Representative Steve King. And I replied that the worst part, personally, was that maybe King is on to something, maybe I really don't belong here. These people are almost in charge, you know, people like Congressman King; they control the House and they control the supposedly non-partisan Supreme Court, and it's possible they'll control the White House at the end of next January if Romney wins in November. They turn out in elections and end up carrying 40%-60% of the vote, depending; it isn't like the nutjobs are the minority, in other words: they could be 51% of the population. They could be more.

"'Kathy, I'm lost,' I said, though I knew she was sleeping."

Representative King thinks the big deal over his comment is because he compared immigrants to animals, and he's happy to announce he, himself, is a metaphorical sheep. That's a Christian thing, though I can't read something like that without recalling a different reference ("Meek and obedient, you follow the leader down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel"). I don't know about that; what I find most dispiriting is how his comments about picking the best of the litter remind me of the kind of things eugenicists used to say before eugenics was widely discredited as a discipline around 1945. (I'm not sure we're allowed to specifically mention what happened in the immediately preceding years that completely torpedoed eugenics, as someone who misses the point will likely and inaptly invoke Godwin's Law over it.)

Prior to certain revelations in '45, eugenics was a popular subject, not just abroad, but here, too. And one of the ways that passion manifested itself was that the United States spent a lot of time trying to figure out who the "undesirables" were, and keeping them out. Two things about that: first, that in the first half of the Twentieth Century we're talking immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, largely; and second that all these folks had to come over via ship, so keeping them out was a matter of controlling the ports and nothing like having a several hundred mile land border that's basically impossible to secure. So, y'know, we sent the "less vigorous", "less perky" of the litter back to their home countries--in Eastern and Southern Europe, you know, where a lot of them weren't wanted, which is why they tried coming here in the first place; a lot of them, it happens, weren't wanted in the countries they were trying to leave because they were Jewish.

Well, revelations of 1945, and all that. You see where this is going. You see where this went.

And I think of that scene, you know, near the end of Schindler's List, where Liam Neeson, as the titular Schindler, is beating his chest and wailing and appraising the value of his surroundings--how many people was this ring worth, could he have gotten one more person out, twelve more? We could have gotten some more people out. All we had to do in the 20s and 30s was have Congress shift a few quotas, change some forms, say "hello" to some shivering folks at Ellis Island instead of putting them back on boats. You know what they used to do to unwanted puppies, right? They drowned them instead of letting them grow up to be unwanted and abused dogs. Well maybe that would have been just a smidge less awful, if we'd even done that.

Not that it's the same. I'm not saying that a bunch of folks crossing the southern border are fleeing incipient genocide. I'm just saying, I guess, that you don't really know what some other country is going to do, or what's going to happen some other place, but you'd like to think, as an American, that this, at least, is safe ground, sanctuary; that this place is like an old church at least in the respect that a fugitive coming here can consider himself safe from lynch mobs and disasters and whatever else for a long while.

This is clearly because I am some kind of idiot. It's all the same, isn't it? Some of us damn fools are wondering what changed and who to blame, when the fact is it was probably like this all along, wasn't it? This is a conservative country and a Christian country, like all those jackasses say--it may or may not have been founded that way, but it's what this place turned into sometime around the Jacksonian era to the present, with little flickers of something better here and again, but mostly only when it could be forced unwillingly down people's throats as bitter medicine for Fort Sumter or the Dust Bowl or Pearl Harbor. The rest of the time we were--and are--parochial, bigoted, superstitious, xenophobic; we are, if we are defined by our majority, a hateful and petty little people, selfish and ambitious and vain egomaniacs with no sense of history and the mythic sense of purpose that causes men to butcher prostitutes in Whitechapel or serve children poisoned Flavor Aid in the Guyanese jungle. We're mad and stupid, aren't we? ("Then we're stupid and we'll die," Daryl Hannah said to Rutger Hauer, à propos.)

What was I looking for? It wasn't lost, it isn't gone, it just wasn't to start with.




2 comments:

Carol Elaine Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 12:59:00 PM EDT  

We may all be mad and stupid, railing against the prevailing wind of horrible people like Rep. King - a wind that may sweep us all away - but I'd rather be the kind of mad and stupid that has compassion for people who are fleeing horrific lives in other lands than the kind of mad and stupid that thinks those people are no better than mindless animals.

Being Don Quioxte can be exhausting and dispiriting, but sometimes it's all I have to cling to. I won't let go of it easily. Because those flickers of something else, something better in our history DO make a difference.

Anonymous,  Monday, June 18, 2012 at 12:29:00 PM EDT  

Never underestimate the need to hitchhike out of Saginaw.

Somethings are eternal.

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