I try to stay away from discussing politics and religion because of the divisive nature of those topics in American discourse. However, because of events from this week, I thought it would be an opportunity to share a little American culture from my point of view.
I was born into a military family, and I lived in Europe and the US as a kid. As an adult, I lived in Asia and traveled a bit of the Orient as a US sailor. I’ve visited almost every state in the union and lived in more than a few. One of my parents was a naturalized citizen, as am I.
I tell you this to let you know that I have been to other countries and appreciate the diversity their cultures bring to the world. I would not be the person I am today without those experiences. Every corner of the world has value, even if it’s to show how low a social group can go (think, the homeless).
All my life, America has been touted as the “land of the free, and the home of the brave.” The older I get, the more I realize that the America in which I grew up no longer exists.
My first hints were early in life. During my time in Asia, I was fascinated by the art and culture of the region. And me being me, took a little time to appreciate that culture. I learned the niceties, “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me.” Those three phrases took me a long way everywhere I visited. It showed the native peoples that I respected their culture. Some of my shipmates were not as polite, however. They showed the world the “Ugly American.”
My last night in Japan, a friend and I went out to try to finish the bottles we had purchased at the local tavern (we failed, by the way). My friend, a Boatswains Mate (“Boats”), had been previously stationed at this port, and a friend of her mother’s owned a local tavern. She and her friends were welcome any time, as long as we observed local customs; otherwise, the bar was “Japanese Only.” That night was so slow, the owner closed the bar and took us to dinner. I got to experience Japanese culture in a way the average American sailor rarely does.
Mama-san and her server escorted us into a restaurant and treated us to a traditional Japanese dinner—leave your shoes at the door, sit on the floor authentic. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know everything I ate that night, but it was all delicious. And despite all the stimuli and alcohol, the experience of that night will be with me forever. (I’ve since lost track of Boats, and would love to catch up with her again.) The point is, around the world, near US military bases everywhere, the local populace will have their “Locals Only” establishments to keep the “Ugly American” at bay. I was fortunate enough to have been allowed to see that side of Japan, not many American service members can say the same.
Since my last ocean voyage on a big, grey ship, I’ve only left the United States once, to step across the border into Calexico to shop with my folks sometime before 9/11. I’ve wanted to travel abroad, but our culture has done an excellent job of alienating our allies. The “Ugly American” is no longer limited to a few rowdy servicemembers that can’t hold their liquor. This persona has percolated up through the highest levels of government and spread like an insidious plague through our culture.
What many of my fellow citizens fail to realize, I think, is that American influence has been waning over the last decades, and most decidedly in the past few years. Despite the best efforts of our founding fathers, this country seems determined to slip toward a theocratic form of government. The minority lords it over the majority, many of whom have been convinced that their voice and vote don’t count.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is, The Powers That Be™ don’t want you to vote. They want their base to vote. That’s it; you, not so much. The Ubiquitous They™ make it difficult or impossible for you to vote. Your views are different from theirs, so they don’t want to hear what you have to say. Especially if you are a person of color.
Our last election was decided by non-voters. The largest voting block in America was the non-voting block. It was bigger than all Americans who voted, put together. Many of my shipmates and I served so that you can have the freedom to vote or not. But keep in mind that people around the world are fighting and dying for the right you take for granted, and you poo-poo the idea with, “but my vote doesn’t count.” Here’s a little factoid for you: If you don’t vote, you bet it doesn’t count.
America has become hyperpolarized in the last thirty years thanks to the dissolution of the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987. Up until that point, the news and other controversial issues were presented in a manner that was “honest, equitable, and balanced.” This meant that even when the report presented both sides, those sides presented factual information. Not so in the thirty years since. The rise of conspiracy theories presented as fact has taken over particular wings of American discourse.
If you don’t believe how twisted facts have become in the US, tune in to one of the propaganda-based “news” organizations, and listen for an hour. My news sources are varied, and I do not depend on local sources as my only way to get news. I like to look at international news to see what other countries say about us. It isn’t all good.
My word to my fellow citizens is to VOTE! If you don’t like the way things are going, VOTE! It’s the only way in our country to make your voice heard. Call the people you elected to represent you, leave messages, send postcards, and emails. If we don’t defend our democratic republic, it will soon be too late, and the America we once knew will be relegated to the history books.
I was going to post a quote from the venerable blogger Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station. My request for permission to post one of his quotes has thus far gone unanswered, so I will let you read his words, his way.