Oh, America

Dave Sorensen - Saturday Essay“I say we better look our nation searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease.” — Walt Whitman

Sit down, America, we need to talk. But first take off those jackboots, you look ridiculous. And lose that tricorn hat. It’s cutting off your circulation. Besides, we don’t do history here, America, funny hats or no, and attention deficit aside, you’re a mere adolescent of a nation, slow to learn what goes around comes ’round.

These wars have been going on too long, America. The paper flags have faded in the windows, and folks just plain forget. But we are mired in the quag, so what do you say we shutter Empire Incorporated and retrofit some swords into plowshares, some drones into solar panels, retrain some bombers into builders of durable goods? Enough of bankers, spooks, and missiles, always in that order. Enough raining high-tech holy hell on any brown-skins shunning your benevolent intentions. If you were a super hero what would your super powers be, America? I can think of two: blowing shit up, and manufacturing dreams in Hollywood, not to be confused with reality TV out of North Waziristan.

Ambrose Bierce said, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography,” but even that’s not working, my tricolored uncle. Our hysteria is ahistorical, with barely a news cycle between its entrance in one ear and exit from the other. This Jihad vs. the GWOT (Global War on Terror) is much too complicated. That abstract noun won’t fight fair, and the demonic brand names just keep changing. We got a good 50 years of hatred and government subsidies out of a registered trademark for the Communist Threat. But nowadays allegiances shift with the desert sands, and sometime soon we may abandon our head-choppers in Ryad for the devil du jour in Damascus, to whom, not long ago, we rendered for tender ministrations the prisoners we were too polite to interrogate ourselves.

Spliced, diced and splintered lie your people, America. Until, of course, it’s time to blow shit up, then United We Stand! E Pluribus Something. Out of the Many — what? All for one, and one for whom, America? Let us ask these questions of those ultimate arbiters, the Market Forces (blessed be their name) as they swirl like windy spirits across the grand economy. Should we sell our stock in the Common Good? Dump these neighborhood bonds? Invest in devils stalking our hindmost as the saints sing, “I got mine”?

Political involvement is required to protect your freedoms, America. It’s a colossal King Hell downer, but it’s gotta be done. We can’t just ink-in some ovals on a ballot every few years and think we’ve paid our dues, as if voting were like paying the bill for your cable television and now you can sit back and watch the train wreck, having done your part, being qualified, to boot, to complain at will — an expression forbidden to all not casting ballots. Forbidden to those fractured fragments who don’t take part, and who can really blame them? Because when politics so resembles professional wrestling — minus the chokeholds and forearm smashes — it’s tough to root for fake heroes and their phony maneuvers, grappling in gridlock and pulling punches, then riding home with the villains on the same gravy train.

Somewhere, I’m sure, there exists a 50-year plan for shrinking the American soul until it fits through the keyhole of a safety deposit box. Then all will have been privatized, financialized, atomized, and commodified, so the Market Forces (blessed be their name) can apply their flawless logic of greed, chaos, and competition, and the results shall be known as the Best in the World, for which there is no alternative.

America, you’ve got the Prince of Peace pimping for the gods of war, and all of them shilling for Mammon. You’re full of trigger-happy testosterone and peevish paranoia. Dust from the Twin Towers has spread its particles of fear across the continent, and on that fertile ground fall the seeds of our enslavement.

Or maybe not, America. Walt Whitman also said, “resist much, obey little.” Though some minds have closed like bear traps on scrappy talking points disguised as ideologies (gummint bad! taxes bad!) the 50-year plan to shrink the American soul is not yet complete. They forgot that folks like their freedoms. And not just the freedom to arm oneself to the teeth, in itself enslavement to fear, but all the freedoms worth disobedience, harried and distracted as one may be. Freedom from being spied on, for one thing, America, you creepy Peeping Tom! Freedom to assemble without being beaten and gassed, as promised on some yellowed scrap of paper lying around here somewhere — I’m sure it will turn up — oh Nation of Laws. But laws, they say, are like spiderwebs — strong enough to hold the weak, too weak to hold the strong.

Damn this fear, America, it’s too much work. How is it we trade our freedoms for fear? This is at bottom the age-old story of how people earn, or don’t earn, their wealth. The story of kings and pharaohs, serfs and slaves. And for some reason many Americans are like animals who never look up. They’re forever blaming someone beneath them on this cut-throat totem pole. Someone getting away with things that cost Tax Dollars! Yet in the skyboxes above, free lunches are tucked into, through the miracle of compound interest and money hard at work. You see, passive income requires putting your money to work. Your money goes off and gets a job at Walmart or Raytheon and sends you remittances, because it loves you. And if your money inadvertently jacks the price of rice in a hungry world, so be it. Keep those dividends coming.

Oh, America, it’s all too much. The experiment has escaped the lab and amber waves of grain share dubious genetics. Behind the Potemkin village of our flat-screen TVs the mysterious Earth and its creatures, its oceans and fishes, suffer our exceptionalism. Mankind bows for the stud service of the Wall Street Bull, and the 50-year plan grinds on, conjuring dreams of endless growth and bottomless debt.

But freedom, once imbibed, leaves no taste for the dregs of tyranny, and lovingkindness trumps the devils in our reptilian brains. People will surprise you, America, and the words of a grey-bearded queer from the 19th century can still strike a chord, and touch a jangled nerve:

Resist much. Obey little.


Robert Lillegard

about 7 years ago

I don't even agree but gosh, this is beautifully written. You'd like Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson if you haven't read it.

Christopher LaForge

about 7 years ago

Fine rant for my perfect Duluth day...  perhaps a bit lengthy, but grand over all and some fine Phrases....

Love it and you!


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