Years ago I was driving across the country returning to Los Angeles when I learned I’d been invited to host a delegation led by China’s Defense Minister in the coming days. Of course I was thrilled to receive such an honor and knew I’d need to provide a welcoming gift. As my journey was taking me across the West I felt confident that I’d find some appropriate memento of Americana to fulfill this duty but to my dismay everything that caught my eye in stores had been made overseas. Usually in, you guessed it, China. One of my last stops before LA was a favorite town, Santa Fe New Mexico and I had the very good fortune to have arrived there on Market Day when a host of Native Americans display their gorgeous wares for sale. Under the graceful arches of two full blocks in the iconic Plaza, was a cornucopia of blankets, baskets, potteries, handcrafted turquoise and silver jewelry of every imaginable design enough to make anyone drool. These treasures that had without a doubt been made in America, provided just the authentic bounty I needed to be able to present to my guests.
On Election Day 2020, I found myself again sitting in that beautiful plaza and in contemplation of all that was at stake, pondered what America meant/means to me. The plaza was deserted, thank you Covid, save for one other soul…a Native American singing in full voice and with great intentionality what sounded to me like a prayer. In his timber you could feel the connection to and reverence of the land. Perfect. Moved by the purity of his voice thoughts drifted back to my growing up years overseas, when the U.S. had been a place I went to occasionally for holiday. As such it had remained largely an idea, rather than a place of experiences. America represented everything that was possible, a bright, limitless horizon shimmering with independent thought. The flag was sacred, America in my mind was powerful, moral and to be trusted. It was the embodiment of optimism, a true north unencumbered by a lengthy history of cultural mores, unweighted by restrictive traditions. America and her citizens were free to create their own way, free to express, free to become.
I realize this was fairy dusted with the hubris of youth but it was what I believed. America remained the shining city on the hill until I came to the States at 16 and began to see it through a variety of new lenses which included the necessary upheaval of the civil rights movement, findings on our nefarious doings in Central and South America and through stories from anguished vets, a different understanding of the Vietnam War. Whilst these and more did not dim my love for America they did begin to tarnish my view. The next dent, in a continuing confession of naïveté, was 9/11 when, watching fellow citizens jump from falling towers, the crushing realization that we could be so hated in the world dawned on me. Yet another blow to my Pollyanna image has been our present incarnation in which we are all suffering the lashes, as either participants or observers, of tsunamis of rage and fear. Like trying to find the authentic gift those years ago, I’ve been trying to understand the impulse behind these outcries, particularly those in fervent favor of the current occupant of the White House. Why do these supporters hurt so and perhaps more importantly, where do they hurt?
Recently. I heard a fascinating interview with two former skinheads. Two questions posed were “Why did you join?” and “How did you get out?” The one, a teen rape survivor, responded that she had come from so broken a childhood that she’d lived in a state of swallowed anger until she met a group of youngsters who like herself, were full of rage. She did not hate who they hated, however, their emotional boil matched hers and so she moved quickly to be in lockstep with them. After a few years she had met a young man and lived with him in the home of his mother where she saw that mother care and love her young baby. Witnessing that love so moved this young woman that it slowly but surely unknit her rage, soothed her spirit and thusly, she managed to disentangle herself with the skinheads.
The young man interviewed said that he too had come from a deeply unstable home in a poverty stricken neighborhood and had been fearful all his young years until he met a group of youngsters who appeared to be very powerful. The fact that they were skinheads was irrelevant. They presented as conquerors, a clan to which he could belong and in which he could feel protected. He eventually landed in jail after which he was hired at a small shop by a Holocaust survivor. This man chose never to comment on the youth’s bald head nor swastika tattoo but rather loved and encouraged him until one day this bullying youth fell weeping into the arms of his employer. Needless to say the boy left the skinheads and had the swastika tattoo removed.
Anyone can see where these two souls hurt. They seem to me to represent the turbulent forces of hatred currently at play. Is it possible the fearsome toxic roars of today are actually a cry of fear? A raging against unknown midst the certain change that is underway? Perhaps the slogan “Make America great again,” lands on them as “Make me great.” Make me count. Value me. I don’t know and frankly why bother tangling with irrational rants?
Except wait! Here’s a rant of my own: To my view Biden/Harris move and think from a standpoint of abundance, not from lack or fear. Certainly they embrace science, science that will keep us and the planet alive. They understand that we have moved into a global reality and that if we continue to move backwards into the fierce myopia of nationalism, we will also continue to be left behind. India, Africa and China will continue to not launch new ventures with the US, but rather will continue doing so with one another.
Biden/Harris understand the worthlessness and danger of military spending focused on old technology simply for the sake of having armory built in America, not to mention for purposes of lining the pockets of cronies running dying industries. Biden/Harris understand we must address the rapid advances China is making in space, in A.I. and acknowledge the advances Russia is making underwater. I’ll spare you the rest of this rant.
None of us know what will happen in the ensuing days but I pray that we as a nation are collectively drawn to a vision of America that, to whatever degree possible, resembles the vision I held as a child. One that embodies the core values our President Elect appears to live by, among them: honesty, integrity and resilience. I hope we find one voice and that it sounds as pure as the man singing in the Plaza, Election Day morning. I hope we can emerge from these dark days to find an authentic bounty of the better, bounty we would be proud to present be it to China, to our own communities or to the future.