Monday, August 27, 2007

WHO LOVES “AMERICA”—?—WE DO

I didn’t see the movie they made from PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, despite the many actors in it I admire. It just didn’t seem very appealing to me.

I don’t read the books Garrison Kiellor writes, though I’ve bought a few, usually for my brother the priest, who loves them.

I always referred to him in my writing as “my brother the priest,” along with “my brother the cop” because that’s what they were to me as a boy and still were when I left home.

And also because it’s part of the whole stereotypically predictable make up of my Irish-American family, with a priest, a cop, a teacher, a sister married to a cop, another sister married to a teacher, and me, the black sheep poet, with our politician father and housewife mother.

One of the reasons I wanted to write as a boy was to confront those stereotypes with real people, like my brother the priest who is so much more than the Irish-American cleric, in fact a Franciscan friar and theologian who spent almost his entire adult life in Japan, as well as an accomplished musician, or my brother the cop who went on to become a postmaster and invited restaurant workers from Mexico and others who had no place to go for the holidays into his home to share Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts with his wife and four kids and more from our vast clan, and who has a great capacity for telling a joke better than most professional comedians, and is a voracious a reader, as me and most of my siblings are, even if of different books.

Or my brother the teacher who was a professional musician teaching music in public high schools while playing with the likes of Sammy Davis Junior in Washington DC nightclubs and also attending night classes over many, many, years until he got himself a PhD in education and eventually became a high school principal.

And my sisters and mother were so much more than “housewives” identified by their husbands’ jobs. The sister married to a cop was an “executive assistant” to a highly successful lawyer (who represented authors among other high profile clients). She had more class than all of us, as well as a love of Broadway plays and world travel. The sister who married a machinist-turned-shop-teacher was a medical assistant and paramedic, among other jobs she had over the years, and an accomplished musician.

And our mother was not only our father’s secretary in his various businesses and jobs, as well as the one who paid the bills and took care of anything he needed written, but she also loved Manhattan and the old Paramount where she would take me as a little boy as her companion to watch movies or old vaudevillians do their thing. She was a terrific writer as well, as copies of her many letters and diaries revealed to me, unfortunately after she had passed on, And everyone in the neighborhood, related or not, went to her for advice and solace.

But the point of this post isn’t my family’s story, though it’s part of it. The point is that the right-wingers are forever questioning the patriotism of those of us who don’t agree with them, as well as our love for the U.S.A. It’s a tactic they wield very well and that has gained them some followers in recent decades among people very much like my family (though most of my brothers and sisters remain supporters of the Democratic Party, no matter what criticisms they may have of individual Democrats).

I always hated that charge of not loving my country just because I was against policies of official racism when I was a boy and young man, or of sexism or legal prejudice against people from certain ethnic groups or sexual or gender preferences or because I believe our country, the wealthiest in the world, should be able to afford health care for all, since so many countries not as rich as us can, and should be able to care for the poor and support public education including paying teachers a wage that reflects the importance of their job (among other professions that are the most important but often seem the lowest paid).

Or because I also care about people in other nations, even those that some in our government, or leaders of our political parties, call our “enemies.” I always got, even as a kid, that it was mostly the leaders of governments we were fighting against, not the people. Most citizens of most countries have the same goals as most citizens of our country, to make a decent living, to care for their loved ones, to be free to think and say what they want, to worship as they wish, to be protected by their government from those who would take these things away, or harm them and their loved ones in any way, including by refusing them health care because of their lack of enough funds to pay for it.

Except when their fear that these things will happen is exploited and an enemy is named as the one who wants to do the harm and then these same citizens, or too many of them, can be manipulated into hating people more or less like them, out of fear of losing what they have or being kept from getting what they feel they need.

And the same thing happens here. Those who would manipulate as many of us as they can into feeling fearful that someone is out to harm us and then naming an entire country or people or way of life or belief as our enemy, exploiting the resultant outrage to their benefit and branding those who question them or their tactics as “traitors” as “America-haters”—as certain right-wingers did to us during Vietnam and have been doing ever since 9/11.

They believe that this is a country that should be run by people of only one faith, and even more specifically by people who believe in the tenets of one relatively recent faction of that faith, and they believe that their limited taste or comprehension of what makes up the diverse cultural richness of this country is the only taste that should dictate what the nation’s culture should be, because they have fond memories of earlier decades when blacks and women and gays and other groups were kept in their place—kept down that is, and out of sight or removed from any possibility of power whether in the actual positions of power in government and corporations or in the power that comes with cultural impact, and those of us who don’t share their viewpoint are unpatriotic and don’t love our country.

But interestingly, and the reason I mentioned Garrison Keillor at the start of this post, is that despite my lack of interest in the movie made from his NPR radio show, or the books he has written, I do listen to the show when I come across it on the car radio, and I do enjoy, even love, much of the old fashioned love of country and fellow man it projects.

I suspect that the audience for that show, both at home and in the live venues where it is recorded, would not identify as “right-wing” though many may be Republicans, or as fundamentalist Christians, though many might identify as Christians.

These are people who thrill to the sound of old time country music performed by experts of that genre, as well as to other forms of music from not only the USA but around the world. Who anticipate with glee and applaud just the announcement for Keillor’s shaggy dog stories about Lake Woebegone, the mythical version of the kind of small Midwest town he grew up in and even those of us who didn’t, still miss in many ways.

We too love this country, the good people in it who are sometimes too humanly judgmental or fearful, but who help each other out, who volunteer for risky jobs including defending the country, only to be misled into defending the interests of a particular political party or the corporations that bankrolls it.

When I was an enlisted man in the service, I used to feel very emotional every time I was on flag duty, watching it be raised or lowered to the sound of a bugle, thinking of my two oldest brothers who served during WWII, or my "brother the cop" who served during the Korean War, whether they saw combat or not, and even of the John Wayne WWII movies I loved as a boy, or the promise this land held out to my Irish peasant granparents. I felt so much love for this country at those moments, and so many others. And so does everyone else I know, who the right-wingers consider "unpatriotic" or "traitors" for not agreeing with them.

In fact, we are the people who embrace ALL of what this country is, all of the culture, from old style country music and the blues and folk and pop and jazz and classical and experimental and rock’n’roll and punk rock and hip hop and disco and rap, and all kinds of art even some that offends certain sensibilities, and all kinds of people, even strange ones and odd ones and ones that are so unique there’s no category for them.

And we are equally accepting of those folks who just want to associate with their own kind and practice their own brand of their own chosen religion or only listen to the kind of music they can tolerate; we just don’t want those people dictating to the rest of us what we should like and do and behave like and believe.

That’s why we’re called “tolerant”—we’re willing to tolerate a lot of differences, because that’s what this country is about. And if you think we’re TOO tolerant, because we are willing to allow others to believe and act and say and write and perform anything they want to, as long as it isn’t hurting others, except maybe their sensibilities, then it’s you who doesn’t love this country, because that’s what this country’s all about.

And if it isn’t, then what are those women and men in uniform defending?

(PS: And I know there are bad guys out there, I’ve known some of them, maybe been one of them here and there, that’s why we should pay cops more, make it a high class profession with college graduates who understand the law in spirit and fact, and who are schooled in the social skills required for dealing with the public and with emergencies as well as with criminals and psychos. And we should have agencies of the federal government whose own culture isn’t one of competing with local police or superceding them, but of supporting and helping them to catch the bad guys, whether individuals, gangs, or international syndicates, which in truth is what Al Quieda is, not an army to throw bombs and bullets at, but a syndicate of co-conspiritors in a criminal activity that should be confronted with all the police tactics our best minds can come up with, as for the most part has been happening in New York under Bloomberg’s administration. But I suspect we’ll bomb Iran instead, a country where a majority of the population loves the USA and would like to be more like it, but after we attack it will hate us for generations.)

9 comments:

Another Lally said...

In everything you profess, you describe Republican values.

Your thinking becomes conflicted when you seek the federal government to become the oligarchy.

The Republicans seek a form of society that cherishes the creative mental powers of the individual, and seeks to cultivate those powers as the key to economic and cultural progress.

The oligarchs (Democrats) seek to suppress the mental powers of the individual, because they prefer a fixed, feudal form of society and consider change to be disruptive and dangerous.

harryn said...

i had a feeling since Amanpour's documentary (and even since the 'daily show', 'quote', and 'max roach' blogs) that your thoughts were churning. Thank you for articulating some of the poignant topics in 'who loves...'. since "god's warriors" aired i've talked to a few people who shared my distress - about the program, foreign/domestic policy, fascism, partisanship, and myopia.
today's blog clarifies some of that distress in a way that pertinent poetry does. the content speaks for itself but the rhythm powerfully echoed some of the Lally classics like: 'Going Home Again' and 'Healing'.
as usual, good to read you.

Doodle said...

My planet, right or wrong!

AlamedaTom said...

I'm just now recovering from a derisive laughing fit after reading the following from "another lally:"

"The Republicans seek a form of society that cherishes the creative mental powers of the individual, and seeks to cultivate those powers as the key to economic and cultural progress."

Can I please get some of what he is smoking?

~ tom

Another Lally said...

Must be what you're smoking that clouds your ability to understand.

Isn't it your gripe that the King is not serving his realm? Not delivering the needs of the collective.

Isn't it your gripe that the Declaration of Independence calls for individual responsibility for the benefit of the nation?

Stop asking what your country can do for you, and start thinking what you can do for your country,

Put down the pipe.

harryn said...

with regard to 'another' lally; i'm pleased the "real" lally closed his commentary with the concept of tolerance.

Another Lally said...

True tolerance is indifference to difference.

What is oftentimes referred to as tolerance today is unfounded guilt as the result of some act in our history of which we had no part.

Republicanism celebrates and promotes the differences in every productive individual. This is a tenet proposed by Plato in seeking Utopia and again restated in the Declaration of Independence.

Endorsing the oligarchy promoted by the Democratic Party while seeking the principles of the Republican Party can easily cause one or many to be conflicted in their thinking.

tore's tour said...

i'm not a man of words. Now i certainly am lacking words to express how much i appreciate this blog.
thank you for writing it.
tore

Lally said...

Hye Paul, great to hear from you man, and Tom and Doodle and Torre, thanks for the comments.