Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The United States - A Failed Idea

Now, I know what you're thinking--a typical, liberal hater of America. Not so. On the contrary. I'm quite grateful to the nation of my birth--granted, we're not the most intellectual of cultures, but it's not as if our bookstores stock only porn and sports biographies. (Actually, if they did, I'd still visit from time to time--and I don't give a rip about sports.) I went to a State university for my undergraduate career, and attended a State university--almost entirely on the State's nickel--for my graduate work. And I didn't even have to serve time in the army in exchange. God forbid I should ever speak ill of what has been, so far as I'm concerned, a kind and incredibly generous and lenient parent. And, the occasional genocide of the natives aside, America was an experiment well worth making--and not wholly unsuccessful. (Heck, we're even giving the surviving natives the opportunity to become incredibly wealthy by exploiting our own laziness and greed. Good for us!) We've done some great things. We've had some good times. But I think--let's face it--it's become readily apparent that we need some time apart.

See, it's not "America" that failed. It's the "United States." Specifically, the United part. Back when it was the original 13, such a thing was manageable, though even then you had your split between the aristocratic, slavery-using South and the Puritanical, slave-importing North, with the poor folks in Maryland and Deleware stuck in-between.

But as the recent trend in political and popular culture has revealed, the old saying about there being two Americas has become less and less a truism and more and more the truth. We on the coasts do in fact view everything from Arizona to West Virginia as "fly-over country"--and who can fault its inhabitants for resenting the living s--t out of us? I know folks on the left like to blame Rupert Murdoch for the evils of this nation (Murdoch having replaced Limbaugh as the Devil-de-Jour), but come on--don't blame the band for playing requests. Fact is, Fox News doesn't 'spin'--it panders. It doesn't seek to warp politically neutral folks into mindlessly evil conservatives--it's just preaching to the choir. Likewise, angry ministers in Oklahoma City love to blame Bravo for 'normalizing' homosexuality with "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"--but, again, come on--the only people who watch that show already think homosexuality is pretty normal to begin with. Personally, I'm horrified that someone as blatantly ignorant as George W. Bush (notice I don't call him 'stupid'--that's wrong--'stupid' means 'can't get your order right at Starbucks' or 'can't remember that colors go in warm/cold, whites go in hot'--our President isn't stupid, he's quite literally an ignoramus, and there's a difference) is most likely going to win re-election--and that there are blue-collared folks throughout the nation who adore him as our leader. But then, they didn't much care for Clinton, and there's a sweetness to payback that I can't begrudge them.

What I'm saying is, we have to give up the idea that we're one nation, indivisible. We are quite divisible, and I think we're bitterly happy about it. Texas, for instance, wants nothing to do with the rest of the country--and guess what, Texas? It's mutual. (You really crossed the line with the whole "Don't Mess With Texas" bulls--t. Only a truly assholic state could take an anti-littering campaign--a slogan designed to address the fact that you people treat your own state like an open trashcan--and turn it into a mindlessly, completely unjustifiably statement of jingoism. "Don't Mess With Texas"? Why not? Am I going to get my ass kicked worse in a bar there than in, say, South Dakota? I think not. And yet the residents of Pierre would never swagger around with "Don't Mess With South Dakota" on their belt buckles. So knock it off, Texas, you look like you're overcompensating for something.) So why stay together? You go your way, we'll go ours, and we'll both be much happier. I'm tired of pretending that "we're all Americans" means something other than a fact of geographical abutment--as if we all really shared some core set of values and that our differences were just cosmetic. Bulls--t. I recently took a walk through the Castro, and if you're telling me that its people are, underneath it all, really the same as those of, say, Birmingham--well, then, you're just so f--king blind you might as well put in for the red-tipped cane and the dog. I'm not saying one group is better than another--this isn't about value or worth--it's about people who have nothing more than a language in common, and barely that. And that's not enough to hold a country together.

There's an old cliche about how, if the Earth were ever attacked by aliens, we'd all put aside our petty differences and band together against the common threat. As someone who regularly (and involuntarily) sits in on staff meetings--meetings between colleagues who generally like and agree with each other, mind you--let me say this: No. We wouldn't. We'd try to figure out how to avoid committing our own nation to danger so as to let our rivals get their asses handed to them while tiring out our common opponent. We'd bicker amongst ourselves about whose job it really was to prevent this sort of thing from happening. We'd dither in sub-committees. We'd jockey for preeminence. We'd point fingers. We'd refuse to speak about mutual efforts until major concessions on prior issues had been made. We'd be f--ked, in short.

If 9/11 proved anything, it proved that our differences were not cosmetic--our similarities were. When folks across the country were giving blood and sending money and praying en masse, when congressmen of both parties were standing shoulder-to-shoulder and singing patriotic songs, when irony was declared dead and late-night talkshow hosts wept openly and unashamedly, one man stood forth and proclaimed it was all a lie. Rush Limbaugh, God bless him, was smart enough to see the truth. Oh, sure, he saw only his perversely one-sided version of it. But when he went on the air, mere days afterward, and warned his listeners not to trust the Democrats, that they were going to find some way to turn this around and attack the President and the Republicans and twist the country back into their clutches--dammit, he was right--fat, mean-spirited, drug-addled, and possessed of an ugly soul, but right. Of course, the Republicans did the same thing--9/11 became the justification for every legislative horror John Ashcroft and Karl Rove could think to inflict on us--but almost literally as soon as the dust had settled, we went back to what we'd been before: two nations who hate each other's f--king guts.

Liberals like Franken and Moore like to claim that 9/11 was a great opportunity squandered--a moment when we could have become more unified as a nation, and which Bush & Co. used to make us more divided. Sorry, guys, but the post-9/11 handholding was an illusion. We really didn't want to come together. It's like in those bad horror-comedies, where the two people who really hate each other are suddenly scared, and grab onto each other, not noticing whom they're grabbing--then they look, react, and let go. That was 9/11. Liberals still think this should be an exclusively liberal country. Conservatives think the obverse. So where was this magical unity supposed to lead us? To a world where both sides could get exactly what they want? Sorry--two objects can't occupy the same space--two nations can't really occupy the same geography--ultimately, one's going to lord it over the other.

So let's stop pretending. The problem isn't Democrats or Republicans. The problem is that we've reached a point in our culture where we can confidently point to a map of our nation and say, "That's a red state." Or "That's a blue state." Well, if a red state is always going to be a red state (and, let's face it, Texas is always going to be a red state. And Oklahoma. And Mississippi. And Alabama. And Alaska. And Wyoming. And Utah.)--if a state is so culturally and politically pre-determined that presidential candidates don't waste their time campaigning there anymore--well, doesn't that state clearly not belong in an enforced union with a neighboring blue state? Should a state that votes overwhelming to pass an amendment to its constitution to ban gay marriage be forced to unite with a state that votes just as universally to endorse it? Folks, we're kidding ourselves. This is not going to get better. We are not going to come closer to each other's position. Because we're a nation divided by issues on which there is no compromise. Either being gay is fine, or it is going to send you to hell. If you believe one, you cannot 'come around' to the other way of thinking--you have to reject it completely. Either abortion is the moral equivalent of murder, or it isn't--again, where's the room for compromise? Like slavery, these are 'all or nothing' issues--you can't have a kinda-sorta view on them. You either have a complete division of Church and State--which means you have to take 'under God' out of the Pledge of Allegiance, and you can't have the 10 Commandments on the court lawn--or you have a state-sanctioned religion. That's it--and there are a lot of people who live in geographically specific areas who fall consistently on the 'liberal' and 'conservative' sides of this issue.

So what are we doing, forcing them to live under the same government? This is not a democracy--this is a totalitarian subjugation of one half of the citizenry, and just because I happen to believe in one side of all these issues doesn't mean I'm comfortable forcing entire states to agree with me. Enough is enough. Let's just do what all couples do when faced with irreconcilable differences: Let's break up.

Like Texas, California really doesn't care about the rest of the country--and man oh man, do they hate us. (I still think it's envy of the weather, but I could be wrong--it might have to with our collective view of smoking as the 8th deadly sin. Light up in L.A., and you'll get looks like you just swung a baby by its heels and dashed its head against a wall.) So let's leave. Nevada--you're with us (you need us for most of your tourism, anyway.) Oregon, Washington? You're free to come along--I know you hate us for stealing your water, but we've got the military bases you're going to need to stave off a Canadian invasion. Come on, better with us than on your own--we promise to take conservation seriously once we boot Ah-nold out of office in a real election. Tell you what. Join us, and you can pick the new country's name and design the flag. Hawaii? You can go back to being a sovereign nation, but again, I think you might want to sign up with us--we're muy simpatico anyway on the whole gay issue, so why not? Everyone else? Go f--k yourselves. We're done. We're out. San Francisco is the new federal capital, and all y'all can go chase yourselves up a tree. And doesn't that sound like a nice country? California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. Everybody getting along in a land of La-la liberalism and a robust economy on the Pacific Rim. And nobody in Nebraska would ever be forced to submit to our do-gooder agnostic bulls--t ever again--you're welcome, Nebraska.

Think of it! The South can get together and no longer be the national punch-line! (I would advise all minorities to leave the vicinity or to be very well-armed.) The flannel-shirted red-neck states (Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana) can all unite and kick out the skiers and the movie-star ranch-owners once and for all! Texas--well, Texas can finally be what it's always regarded itself as--a nation unto itself. Minnesota? Um, join Canada--you guys'll get along great--they're nice and stoic and deeply taciturn, just like you! New England can stop pretending there's a difference between Vermont and New Hampshire! And best of all--none of us have to give good godd--n about Washington D.C. ever again!

I'm moderately serious about this. I think it's what's best. Fact is, Americans are getting really comfortable with hating each other. And I think that what's behind it isn't a genuine, organic hatred, but a hatred born of the idea that half of us have to live by the rules--the rule--of the other half. If we're all really free to be free--if we can all live our lives according the beliefs of our own communities--I think we'll get along much better. At the very least, we can stop speaking to each other--and isn't that preferable to screams of hatred?


Blogger HonEB said...

LOL. I wandered here from a friend's site and had a good laugh, and yes, I've had the same thought myself just not as cleaverily put. I like this so much I'm going to post it on my blog, giving you full credit of course. If you'd rather I didn't, please leave me a note here... I'll definately be checking back in.

-Melissa H.

10:17 AM  
Blogger HonEB said...

LOL. I wandered here from a friend's site and had a good laugh, and yes, I've had the same thought myself just not as cleaverily put. I like this so much I'm going to post it on my blog, giving you full credit of course. If you'd rather I didn't, please leave me a note here... I'll definately be checking back in.

-Melissa H.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

To Melissa H.--

Please feel free to quote me to all and sundry--the original Dryden loved it when people did that, and I'm as much of an egotist as he (though with less justification.) Glad you like the blog, and look forward to your return.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say I'm surprised that you give any weight, however ironic, to the notion of blue or red states. This is only a function of the silly electoral college system.

California blue, for example? Yes, I suppose, but you suppress a lot. I mean, the state voted for the governator. And San Francisco v. Orange County--remember our good friend Robert Dornan, erstwhile guest host for Mr. Limbaugh?

And what about my (new) hometown, Grass Valley? We have equal parts wacko liberals and wacko conservatives--Bush is understood here as either anti-Christ or second coming.

I don't think that many people would want to move....


1:00 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

I actually don't regard the electoral college as 'silly' in a country where we're going to have semi-sovereign states. If we eliminated it, places like Wyoming would have no say in the electoral process whatsoever, since population would render them meaningless. Granted, we might distribute the votes in a manner more consistent with population. Regardless, I do think that the labelling is still a safe indication of the political leanings of the state overall--if a national politician can count on receiving a state's electoral votes, it must because the voters of that state are going to vote for him and his platform by a comfortably safe margin. And the fact is, I think that states, like Utah, say, that are occupied overwhelmingly by cultural conservatives, do represent the gap between one America and the America represented by, say, Vermont. Granted, California is not a cultural monolith--the rest of the country just sees it that way. But there's no sign that our two Senators are going anywhere soon, and even in electing our Republicans, we tend to go for moderates--I think that Ah-nold's election this time didn't mean anything much, since he came nowhere near to a plurality of the vote, BUT I also think he bids fair to be re-elected, and that's because he's a cultural moderate--pro-gay, pro-choice, etc. The difference, to my mind, isn't political per se, but political-as-an-expression-of-cultural. Even the most die-hard Orange County Republicans interact with gays and blacks and Latinos and have no problem with them--well, no REAL problem with them. Can we say the same of the Republicans in, say, Birmingham? I think not--it ain't who you vote for, it's WHY you for 'em--and there I think California may be politically diverse, but culturally it's quite liberal--Clint Eastwood is a total Republican, but he's a CARMEL Republican, and they're remarkably open-minded folks. They just like low taxes and local government, is all. I'm not saying that there wouldn't IMMEDIATELY be two parties in California, going at it--I'm just saying that I think those two parties would disagree on political, rather than cultural grounds. The national parties have abandoned the former battle for the latter, in a reflection of the cultural division of the country. No, I'm still staying with my dream of a divided U.S.--or rather, I'm still waiting for a compelling argument for our staying together...

3:15 PM  

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