Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Country We Live In

It's sort of amazing the things people will say in front of you. I'm not sure if they think being on the other side of an open doorway means you can't hear them or if they just imagine you won't care, but every once in a while I'll encounter a bit of indiscretion that completely floors me.

"Obama's tryin' to take the assault rifles," one of the greasy men drawled to the other. They were repairing my car as they talked, and it occurred to me that both the manner and substance of their conversation did not necessarily need to materialize in an auto shop in Mountain Town. Their dialect, a vaguely drawn-out twang shared by workingmen from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains, might have popped up anywhere across the American continent, as might the faux-libertarian sentiment that accompanied it.    

"He's tryin' to override the Constitution," one of them informed the other with all the solemnity of the completely uneducated. "And I heard some Republican senators were saying, 'It ain't gonna happen.' You know, he already raised all the taxes with that fiscal cliff."

I exhaled through my nose but kept my mouth shut. This wasn't my fight and there was nothing I could say that would change these men's minds.

When they came into the room where I was waiting, though, they continued.

"What we need," said one to the other. "Is another Lee Harvey Oswald."

He grinned the way a grandfather might grin at a small child awaiting a present. It all just seemed so damn pleasant, this talk of our president being violently murdered, and I was reminded once more how deceptive the South can be. It is a land of natural beauty prone to economic privation. It is a land whose residents imagine themselves courteous but whose knowledge of actual courtesy stops at the words "sir"and "ma'am" (never, incidentally, "madam"). It is a land whose political culture extols democracy but whose politicians exploit a deep undercurrent of petty fascism. And it is a land where extremism can appear less virulent than it really is because it is shared by so many.

"Lee Harvey Oswald?" I asked, finally unable to hold my tongue. "Are you talking about the new book on him? Is that what it is?"

One looked at the other and smiled.

"Yeah," he said. "I heard there was a new book."

I wonder what they must think of me? I'm tall and thin in a region of walking sows, with long hair and a delicate face and an accent that to them must sound somewhat foreign. I can't imagine they see me as one of their own. So what had they been thinking?

"You know," the first one said, looking at me with contrition. "Obama wants to roll over the Constitution and that's not right. You can't do that."

In an instant he was remorseful, then genial and talkative again. But his true feelings were still there, just beneath the surface. Just waiting to come out.

These people and the overlords who profit from them will never simply allow us to enact finance reform, or gun safety, or marriage equality, or anything else that this country needs to move forward. They are the same men who fomented Jim Crow. They are the same men who invented the term "right to work." They are the same men who propagated massive resistance when the Supreme Court had the audacity to state that black children and white children were equal.

We sometimes forget, in this comparatively tranquil era, that the civil rights movement was not won with words. The North did not transform the South through compromise and agreement; it transformed it through force. And when the public high schools of Little Rock, Arkansas were at last integrated, it was at the bayonet tips of the 101st Airborne. The duplicitous forces of conservatism have never willingly given us anything. Each time, in all matters, we've taken it.

That's something to remember now.


5 comments:

Jay M. said...

But please remember...Obama won by over a million votes.

You cannot overcome ignorance, hypocrisy, and total stupidity, but you can outvote it. For people as you describe, there is no redemption...even when the American Gestapo doesn't come for their guns, or force them to marry another man, or do any other thing that they think Obama is trying to railroad this country into.

And if he is, then over half our population must want him to. I have found that in Facebook, and real life, UNfriending and IGnoring can be a very good way to avoid confrontation! Which is fine with me.

Peace <3
Jay

naturgesetz said...

It's one of the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric. Some people say that Obama's trying to override the Constitution and take away our rights, and the conclusion is that he's got to be stopped — by an assassin's bullet, if necessary. The media folks who portray Obama as shredding the Constitution may or may not believe their own hyperbole, but others do. Demonizing the opposition is easy to do, no matter what side you're on. We all need to guard against it.

dawn marie giegerich said...

I dated a boy from "the South" briefly in 1968. I was 16 and at a science seminar at Depauw University in Indiana. He wore lemon-colored jeans, had a smile like a pirate and said he wanted to marry a virgin although he was quite comfortable putting his hand down my pants. Whenever I asked a question, his response was, "Skuse me?" After awhile, I stopped repeating myself. And yet he answered my question. "What gives," I asked, "obviously you hear me, why do I need to repeat?" "Well," he drawled, "us Southern boys just don't talk slow, we think slow."

Arizaphale said...

So hard to respond to this. Everything you say is correct. From a country which responded whole heartedly to gun reform after the Port Arthur massacre and whose civil rights record, if not perfect, at least did not include bullets, it is so upsetting to read about this level of ignorance in our staunchest ally. We kind of know, (from TV) but the reality of reading it here....chilling.

Sue (Someones Mom) said...

Interesting...I live in a very conservative town. I feel as if I've had to have a muzzle on since moving here almost 10 years ago. I have heard things said so many times that don't reflect my opinions and truly amaze and insult me. On rare occasions, I speak up...but, here...I can't make a difference with what I think...so one day in the not so distant future, I'll move.