Once upon a time, there was a great nation. This nation was great because it told itself it was great. It reckoned it had the divine right to push its boundaries from sea to shining sea, and if there happened to be a few inhabitants who already were living on the land, well, they just did not understand the divine right to be great, and they could be pushed aside. Cordoned off onto poor patches of land, stripped of their ancestral traditions of following the migratory herds, a defeated people found solace in the white man’s whiskey, and still they suffer generations later.
Of course, it was agricultural might that first defined greatness. And in one portion of the continent, that agricultural might was lashed into existence upon the backs of the workers, descendants of those who were kidnapped and stacked in ships like cordwood, hopefully to survive the trip across the Atlantic. The fortunes of Southern gentlemen and ladies depended upon the forced labor of the original black gold. When a civil war was fought, it was only with the greatest reluctance that an appeal to morality was made to place the North on the side of the liberation of the slaves. Of course, once the war was over and slavery was outlawed, the nation’s attention to the well-being of the former chattel was limited. Politics, you know. It was easier to withdraw from an occupation, and let the former slave states reenact their social order, only now under the charade of a free black population. Never mind that those free blacks were only free to rent a plot of land owned by the original aristocracy, and live in those hovels that were cobbled together. Some of these hovels I used to drive by as late as the 1970’s, still occupied by those tied to the land by economic links as sturdy as the chains worn a century before.
Yes, we were a great nation. So great that we went a gross of years from the founding of the nation, until half of the population was allowed to vote. Even today we see remains of the sentiments against women’s suffrage resurfacing. Online forums decry the liberalism represented by women’s votes, as if white males held the absolute key to logic and reason. The attitudes that poisoned the nation’s mind in the past still bubble in the nation’s consciousness, now seasoned by those who troll the internet.
Yet, as a statement echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King shows, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” For even with the sins of the past still in living memory, this nation did do great things. It built an infrastructure linking every corner of the nation. It developed technologies that gave humanity freedom to travel across the globe. It created technologies that revolutionized how humanity communicated, and controlled the natural world. And once it became apparent that the new technologies had poisoned the air and land and water, it set about to reverse the poisoning and clean the environment. Long-standing evil was dealt with by legislation, and by applying Federal forces to oppose the remains of racism across this country. You may not be able to change the hearts of humans, but you can put in place a legal structure that limits the damage that human cruelty can cause.
This nation did mobilize and oppose the fascism that engulfed multiple continents in armed conflict in the mid 20th century. We truly became united and with the assistance of those damned Russian commies, made Europe whole again and eliminated the scourge of nationalism and ethnic purity. We also were generous in supporting western Europe in its reconstruction, developing structures that even today help to keep conflict at bay. But we found we needed an enemy in order to keep our military industries vibrant and profitable. We found it in communism, a variant of socialism deemed to be an existential threat. It was necessary to build immense inventories of incendiary devices which could rain down death and destruction on a scale unprecedented in human history. We had to build them to counter the ones that they built. Humanity’s primal urge to provide security caused us to teeter upon the edge of extinction in order to satisfy all parties who worshipped at the trough of the war machine. Still, it was not enough. We had to engage our implacable adversaries in physical battles across the ocean, where the immediate stakes were unknown, but the mythology of the domino theory drove us to commit hundreds of thousands of soldiers to these front lines. And we found it useful (no, we said it was necessary) to support autocratic regimes in other sections of the world in order to prevent the spread of socialism.
We spread seeds across many different countries. The resulting crops have caused many of the problems we face today. From Iran, our support of the Shah grew a crop of religious fanatics who overthrew the existing order, and expressed their implacable enmity against us. Even today, forty years later, we cannot reconcile with the proud people of Iran due to the resentment we fomented by our support of a hated regime. In Central America, our support of those who opposed socialistic parties made it possible to counteract communism without spilling American blood. The crops that grew there though, have come to fruition in the weak regimes of the existing governments, and the growth of criminal gangs, directly resulting in a flood of migrants we struggle to contain. In Afghanistan, the band of religious fanatics we supported in the 1980’s to oppose Russian invasion, still works against us as they strive to purify their country. Everywhere you look, this nation’s acts of the past are brought back to us as the problems plaguing us in the present.
The veneer of civilization is thin. This nation is only about a week away from total chaos if our electric infrastructure is damaged. Yet our current administration believes we can and must abandon the interconnectedness of the world that offers the only hope of stitching together a global fabric of peace. It is long past the time when we could pretend that we could go it alone and maintain and yes, improve our standard of living. Yet the electorate fell for a bogus promise to return us to a state of supposed greatness in the past. And when that sentiment was released, we also released the barely buried racism and misogyny and ethnic nationalism that our veneer of civilization kept contained. Those who now call for a return to normality will be upset at how deep the damage the cult of Trump has inflicted.
There are signs of hope. Some politicians have called for sweeping change in order to address a host of interconnected problems. But since that change challenges the status quo, it is denounced and ridiculed. What is obvious is that we are in real danger of completing the bifurcation of this nation into warring camps, incapable of understanding each other, and not wanting to show any empathy for points of view other than their own. We will not become a great nation until we deal with the underlying flaws that we’ve buried over the decades. Seeing some of those flaws exposed in the past few years has been scary. This coming electoral cycle will show us which way this nation will go. May we choose the side offering hope for the future, instead of the side offering fear and division, just like we selected back in 2016.