America in 2018: Where do we go next?

As many of you know, I was not happy about the results of the 2016 presidential election in my country. “Not happy” is an understatement. “Extreme sense of dread” is more like it. So far this year I’ve written a few columns, blog posts and shared the link to the full album of Funkadelic’s “America Eats it Young” and trusted that people would just get it. But today I’d rather speak directly about what’s going on in America.

I am very concerned about who we are as a nation, and where we go next.

Never in my life did I expect to see a reverse Kindertransport in my home country.

For those who did not study WWII, that’s the network of transporting children to England and in some cases, North America, an underground railroad of sorts for the young European (mostly Jewish) emigres and refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Many of them never saw their parents again. One of my favorite books, W.G. Sebald’s “Austerlitz,” covers this subject from the perspective of one of the children.

I never thought I’d see official government video of asylum seekers in this country detained in an old Wal-Mart. If someone had told me that was possible, I’d have laughed it off as overwrought dystopian fiction, something George Saunders might have written and then discarded. But here we are. Land of low prices, low value for human life, as long as those living it look different than us.

(On a side note, in light of what’s happening on our southern border right now, is anyone willing to vouch for the humanity of our foreign policy in countries mostly hidden from our daily media diet?)

I keep wondering what stories those children will grow up to tell, where they will tell them, and who they will tell them to.

Our elected leaders and their selective mouthpieces will cite all kinds of verses and statutes to uphold the legality of what they are doing, and in may cases, they will succeed in convincing today’s audiences that it’s all above board. But historical witness may not be so kind, or so easily fooled.

The main thing my German-born history teacher emphasized to me was how all of the entire process of the Holocaust was technically legal, done incrementally, carefully and skillfully by Hitler and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels (just read a few of these quotes see if anything sounds familiar).

Things are super messed-up here now, largely because we’ve gotten so jaded, disaffected or beaten-down to where what used to be scandalous is now just cynically accepted.

The governor of Missouri (where I work) resigned last month following credible allegations of sexual assault, but the pressure to step down didn’t really arrive until we was being forced to disclose his list of secret donors.

The leading candidate for governor of Kansas (where I live), who rode in a children’s parade last month in an American flag-wrapped jeep mounted with a massive machine gun replica, just got censured by a federal judge for his successful but illegal efforts to bar tens of thousands of people from voting in the last election. He could easily still win.

None of this is normal, and none of this is OK.

I’ve lost my temper with some about these things (my dad and I on the birther issue back in 2012) and silently fumed about those around me who I know voted Republican (How can they claim to support schools when those they elect cut their funding every year? How can they hug their kids without thinking of those forcibly separated from their parents? How am I any better if I sit by and do nothing?)

I’m not going to convince a hard-headed MAGA Twitter user of the error of his ways, but I can quietly but clearly urge my Republican-leaning family members and neighbors to look at what’s happening and consider not supporting these people again, even if it means voting outside their usual party lines. And if the leaders I help elect begin violating human rights, I’ll vote differently next time as well. (update: I’ve had a few friends and not-friends point out how many of Obama’s policies helped make this possible, even if he didn’t actually enforce the same “zero tolerance” policies — And they’re right, I should have been paying more attention).

We also have a choice to choose constructive speech — and constructive thinking — over destructive speech and not-thinking.

Destructive speech tears down, seeks to obfuscate, misleads, accuses, presents false choices (such as either “zero tolerance” or “total lawlessness”).

Constructive speech gives. It seeks to build an understanding, including those that take years to develop. It may challenge or pointedly inquire, but it does so in the spirit of inquiry, understanding, and growth

People are smart enough recognize the difference, and even in a time when it’s tempting to adapt the syntax of anger and constructive speech, we have a choice to speak positively, about who we are as a people and how we should treat others.

And I know talk itself is cheap, but speaking out with purpose — on our own behalf as a nation and on behalf of those without voices — is still worth something.

I’m not going to stop trying to connect with those who may have voted differently than me, but whom I believe want the same level of decency and humanity for themselves and for others. And I won’t stop listening to those who are actually experiencing suffering, and not just a sense of dread and unease.

I think the only way we win this is with heart, by not losing our own as a nation, by recognizing where we have been cold-hearted in the past and seeking to elect good, smart, humane people who represent our better principles.

Even if America may never have really been the beacon of hope, security and opportunity that I was raised to believe it was, these are ideals that should not be so carelessly thrown away.

America, we need to be better than this.

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