Why you should care
Because this land is your land.
A riot kicked off back in the late ’80s in San Jose. No idea what sparked what quickly caught on, a paroxysm of fucking shit up, as the occasion of a promoter’s attempt to book a top-tier punk show folded in on itself. Cops with nightsticks a-flailing chased teens, klatches of kids hurled broken chairs and floor tiles at retreating cops, fistfights and scuffles abounded. For what seemed like hours.
I wandered the main floor. Strolled, really. Cops were fighting their way by me as I lounged, Virgil-like, through the morass of chaos, untouched. I was so untouched that I started to dissociate and wondered, if even briefly, whether or not I was imagining the riot — up to and including my eventual ride home.
The next day the papers confirmed that there had been a riot, and here we are now, in 2016. Very precisely in the now fading klieg lights of the recently concluded presidential election. A vantage point that offers the same sort of panic as confusion reigns in the cities, losing politicos are blaming everyone and the kitchen sink, salvos of recriminations are bouncing across social media, friends are defriending friends and self-satisfied victors are offering some variation of “suck it,” “deal with it” and, of course, the ever-graceful (and possibly hollow) “let’s work together.”
And between the keening alternate choruses of bleating on the one hand and cheering on the other, one thing is in short supply: calm reflection.
Which is to say: The vast majority of you not living in Canada will not be moving to Canada to live. While protests are screaming across campuses in California, California will not secede from the union. In Trump’s New York, the streets tonight, the night after, are thick with protests. But they won’t be next week. Same with other protesting cities, seven at last count. And most sadly of all, the approximately 73 million people who were eligible to vote but did not probably will also not vote next time, no matter how much agita there is from here to 2020.
Those golden-age days will probably never come back. Not when a nation of those who have grown soft are doing not much more than wishing them back while sporting a #MAGA baseball cap.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, America became an industrial powerhouse with about 25 percent of the world’s wealth at its disposal, according to Michael French in his book US Economic History Since 1945. Many consider it the golden age of American capitalism. This ended in the ’70s. And for sure, when Trump claims to want to make America great again, he’s probably not talking about gas lines, inflation, stagnation and continued Middle Eastern discord.
He’s talking about our inheritance: a memory of these days. But this is also part of our inheritance, a truism: Those days will probably never come back. Not when a nation of those who have grown soft are doing not much more than wishing them back while sporting a #MAGA baseball cap. Or wishing for a modern-day variant on the left where we cut the pie much more evenly while feeling the Bern. Even if Austin council member Greg Casar is doing more than wishing by calling, according to The Austin Chronicle, for open resistance: “In Austin, we’re not just going to resist through protest. We’re also going to resist by being a powerful example of effective government. Trump will not bring solutions to our community. We will.” The reality is that, yes, stasis is an enemy to be feared. But it’s also, in a way, a friend. If nothing happens, then nothing bad can happen. And that might just be good enough.
“Don’t you have any principles?” The speaker was Captain Nately, the 20-year-old soldier and idealogue in Joseph Heller’s seminal Catch-22. And he was speaking to an old man in a whorehouse where Nately did remarkably little whoring.
“Of course not!”
“I’m a very moral man, and Italy is a very moral country. That’s why we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.”
“You talk like a madman.”
“But I live like a sane one. I was a fascist when Mussolini was on top. Now that he has been deposed, I am anti-fascist. When the Germans were here, I was fanatically pro-German. Now I’m fanatically pro-American. You’ll find no more loyal partisan in all of Italy than myself.”
“You’re a shameful opportunist! What you don’t understand is that it’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”
“You have it backwards.” The old man delivered the kill stroke: “It’s better to live on your feet than to die on your knees. I know.”
Or, to paraphrase Einstein, the universe is not nearly as impressed with us as we are with us. So Trump is a sexist, racist, misogynistic know-nothing head of a like-minded party of religious zealots and doctrinaire “small” government gunsels that control the House, Senate and very possibly the judiciary? He holds truck with political strongmen? He will deport 11 million people, and maybe most important, he holds sway over a population of the American citizenry that’s completely fine with this?
America, like the Dude, will abide. Maybe not unscathed or unbowed but well beyond the slings and arrows of outrageous, and make no mistake we ARE there, fortune.
How? By living, not on the couch but on our feet, for starters. “Civic engagement is not a four-year affair, I don’t think,” said Salvatore Russo, a San Francisco social worker who focuses on affordable housing. “It’s an everyday one: Get involved, stay involved.”