a confession: america never was america to me

Every day for the past six months I have found myself stunned by the way the current president of the United States finds new ways to degrade his office and dismay people of good will all over the world. His words, tweets and policies are an affront to the ideals of our democracy while his demeanor celebrates ignorance, belligerence and buffoonery. And just when it seems he can't stoop any lower, he crawls through the muck on his belly like a reptile, appearing to rejoice in that which is base and mean-spirited. When he isn't divisive, he is intellectually incoherent and morally bankrupt. 

It is my conviction to avoid ad hominem attacks on those whose positions or acts I oppose. In a free society, this is part of the bargain: we can disagree without being disagreeable. Ethically, too I understand that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." What I am beginning to realize, however, is that my revulsion for our sitting President is one of the last vestiges of my allegiance to American exceptionalism. My agony and disgust has to do with seeing the shadow reality of my white privilege and the result of the mythology of my class and gender. For as Langston Hughes wrote in 1935: "America never was America to me." 

I used to read his poem out loud on the Fourth of July as a sacred vow to do my part as a citizen on behalf of our deepest ideals. I prayed that our better angels would triumph over time and give new shape and form to authentic equal opportunity in my generation  But this patriot's dream rings hollow to me tonight. It has been betrayed and soiled for so long, sold off to the highest bidder, discarded like used toilet paper and violated repeatedly by racist and sexist violence, that Mr. Trump simply appears to be the natural consequence of our collective history. There are exceptions, to be sure. There are always challengers, too. But let's be honest:  45 only seems scandalous to those among us who, because of the relative safety of our status or a colossal denial of our complicity, have been able to hold on to a sanitized and sentimental romanticism re: America.

Let America be America again. 
Let it be the dream it used to be. 
Let it be the pioneer on the plain 
Seeking a home where he himself is free. 

(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— 
Let it be that great strong land of love 
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme 
That any man be crushed by one above. 

(It never was America to me.) 

O, let my land be a land where 
Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, 
But opportunity is real, and life is free, 
Equality is in the air we breathe. 

(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

My prayer now is to live tenderly with open eyes. There's no room for illusion. The current political, social and spiritual travesty in Washington, DC is killing off my once cherished fantasies - and the funeral is long over due. Enough with the teary grieving and broken hearts; no more shocked indignation. Niebuhr used to teach that until the children of light become as serious and strategic in the quest for compassion and justice as the children of darkness are in maintaining a vile status quo, solidarity will remain cheap rhetoric. Dorothee Soelle was more blunt: to be an ally in the quest for the beloved community many of us must commit race, gender and class suicide. What the current regime documents is that this time has now come.

The author, Diana Butler Bass, put it like this tonight - and her words ring more true to me than ever before:

Tonight, someone crying. She is sitting by the bedside of her lifelong love. He is dying of brain cancer. They have no insurance.

Tonight, someone is crying. He is holding the hand of his best friend, just diagnosed with brain cancer. There is no way to pay the doctor.

Tonight, someone is crying. She is having dizzying spells. She is too scared to find out if she has brain cancer because she has no money, no way to pay for insurance. She would rather not know.

Tonight, someone is crying.

Tonight, thousands are crying.

And John McCain is praised for standing on principles. He will die in comfort. But there are people crying all over America tonight because he put his principles over their humanity. And because of a "base." And Mike Pence. And the Koch brothers. And Donald Trump. None of them are crying. They are happy. They won.

But the sick, the hopeless, the dying. They are crying.

And so is anyone with a heart.

Jesus challenged his opponents saying: "You can read the signs in the heavens... but you cannot - or will not - read the signs of the times."

O, yes, I say it plain, 
America never was America to me, 
And yet I swear this oath— 
America will be! 

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, 
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, 
We, the people, must redeem 
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. 
The mountains and the endless plain—
 All, all the stretch of these great green states— 

And make America again!


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