Dear Middle America,
I know your heart. I live on an arteriole of your productive farming and logging community. I am surrounded by people whose families are still reeling from mill shutdowns and farmers who scoff at the idea of a 40 hour workweek. I feel your pain. My community has been hurt by changes in our world. Spotted owl stew is still being offered up on the metaphorical menu. I hear your voice. You feel drowned out. You want the country of your grandparents back. Nostalgia is a sweet feeling. It’s the feeling I get when I look back on pictures of my kids and smile at the good old day. But we can’t go back. What we had is gone, morphed, changed, and its up to us to morph and change with it.
A Fellow American
Maybe in the America of today we identify with the wrong metaphor. The idea of our country being a melting pot originated with a play of the same name in 1908. But it’s a flawed metaphor. It creates the illusion that our identities can be melted down and fused with others. That doesn’t accurately define what this country is. Maybe our country could be better described as a tapestry of rich, intertwined threads. We should exercise care in tugging on those threads, lest the whole fabric of America unravel.
We are a country of immigrants. Some of us came here by choice, some by force. Some of us were original inhabitants of this land and must be wearing a very ironic smile at the talk of taking our country back. Yet here we are, all converging on this point in time together. In light of all of this, maybe it’s time for a little history lesson.
Throughout our short history we have accepted many to our shores. In the early days of our country, citizenship was granted to “free white people” of “good moral character” with a two year residency requirement. That was changed under Adams to fifteen years and back to five under Jefferson. It’s important to remember that during this time forced immigration was occurring due to the slave trade with no prospect of citizenship to this addition to the American population.
As the years passes, our United States was flooded with wave after wave of immigrants fleeing crop failures, social unrest, industrialization, religious intolerance, pogroms, and poverty. Laws were created to admit some and deny admittance to others. Fears that our country would be undermined and taken over by the Germans, the Catholics, and the Eastern Europeans were very real. But has this happened? Have we become an arm of Germany? Has the Pope wrested control of our nation? Or have we have taken these immigrants in and incorporated them into the tapestry of America? Today the descendents of such immigrants are our professors and policemen, judges and farmers, inventors and data entry clerks, though many of their grandparents and great-grandparents began as laborers and domestics who themselves endured the ire of the citizenry. Immigration laws have changed over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the vision of America as a place where people go to belong, where their thread can be woven into history, where their children have a chance to join the great American experiment. (And who among us in not included in the “they?”)
This election has brought a lot of ugliness to the surface. People who don’t look like that handful of pilgrims fleeing religious persecution who landed at Plymouth Rock so long ago, people who are second or third generation Americans are left reeling as they are told to go back where they came from. Even in my relatively sheltered existence, the truth of the Trump effect is hitting home. People who just days ago fit into the American tapestry are looking around, wondering just who they can trust, and it’s up to many of us to hold the fabric of our collective identity together with safety pins. Just try searching the hashtag #Trumpeffect on Twitter to see what many of the people who share this country are experiencing after this election. It’s vile. The KKK is having an outright victory parade. These are dark days. How far have we sunk as a country that any of this would be okay?
News outlets are reporting that this past election had the lowest voter turnout in two decades. The nature of the election may have caused some to sit it out thinking they couldn’t stomach their choices. I’ve heard people say they couldn’t vote for Hillary because she sounded shrill or because they didn’t want to see a woman in charge. This saddens me to no end. I cringe to think that Trump’s speeches inspired the hateful supporters who were shouting “lock her up” and who threatened to exercise their second amendment rights if their candidate was not elected. Some of those people are the ones decrying the current exercise of the first.
For those of you who are watching the #notmypresident protests unfold and are crying foul, those of you who, like me, believe in the peaceful transfer of power, look at who you’ve elected. Look closely. Play devil’s advocate for a moment and consider the arguments of the other side. Think of the possibility that you’ve been hoodwinked, that maybe the version of reality that’s been trotted out before you is not what you’re going to get.
If you are one of the many who wanted to be heard, to whom this was a protest vote in and of itself, we hear you. Let me offer this: Instead of a man who has a history of lies and evasion, who has manipulated the election, who will probably never again be seen wearing a baseball cap, who hasn’t released his tax returns… instead of this man, look to the true leaders of the common man. Bernie Sanders has a history of standing up for us, the people. Look it up. He’s still here, fighting for us. Look to Michael Moore, who predicted this win not because he supports Trump, but because he’s had his finger on the pulse of downtrodden middle America for a long, long time. I’m going to argue that we can’t have a top-down approach at this point in our country. The top has been compromised, including Donald Trump.
We are shaking the tapestry of America by exercising our first amendment right to protest. Like the flag unfurling in a tempest, it ripples and roils. When the storm dies down, we must ensure it remains intact.
I’ll leave you with the whole sonnet written by Emma Lazarus that graces the base of the Statue of Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Let’s not let it come to this: