American Culture

Dear John

Dear John,

I’m not going to call you Jack, since we don’t know each other very well. But, in a way, I guess I know you better than I want to. You’ve hovered over my life for the past 50 years, and, you know, I’m tired of it. I want you to go away. You’ve taken up too much of my time, and my generation’s time, and you’ve been a bad influence. It’s time to move on.

I know this is hard on you. You’ve been loyal, I’ll say that. That aura you projected that so many people responded to in your lifetime has become transcendent. But that’s not a good thing. It’s been a garden path. Yes, you were transformative, I’ll give you that. You looked presidential as hell, even though you often didn’t act it. You inspired a generation, so I’m told. Many people went into public service of one form or another, inspired by you, I’m told. That Peace Corps thing was great, I admit. It’s still around, doing good work.

But so little lasted. It was a chimera. We got Johnson, who was a significantly better president in many ways, but who also got talked into Viet Nam by your people. Some of what he accomplished was shaped by your memory, your legacy, but most of it originated in his understanding of what rural poverty meant, something you were supremely unfamiliar, and unconcerned, with. And then Nixon, who made the world we inherited.

See, that’s the problem. It’s been fifty years since that Dallas trip, and every year we trot you out to remind ourselves of that golden period we were supposed to be having back then. You and Jackie did the twist in the White House, and Eldridge Cleaver even wrote about it. Yes, there was a lot of glitter. But, like many manufactured dreams, it had a hollowness that couldn’t be sustained. Oh, it lasted for a while. But we know too much now.

And so we live in Nixon’s world, not yours. Nixon was the transformative president, not you. It was Nixon who capitalized on Johnson’s (not yours) Civil Rights act to crystallize the White rage that dominates our discourse, our politics. And which continues to chip away our civility, our humanity.

So every year we trot you out to make ourselves feel just a bit better. We think, of what a better world it would have been. But it’s displacement activity. We keep you around so we can think that we could have had a better world, that we wouldn’t have ended up in this mess, this Nixon-Reagan-Palin nightmare that shows signs of accomplishing nothing other than making the world a worse place. We keep your picture on the wall so that we can persuade ourselves that we’re not staving off a new inquisition.

But that’s just deluding ourselves. We do face massive amounts of mendacity and stupidity, and there have been periods when we’ve been led by fools, and worse. And some periods when whatever progress we might have made in improving the human condition has been sabotaged by the same forces.

But we keep trotting you out, every year, like clockwork. As if what you embodied—or the myth of what you embodied—is what we’re supposed to be pining for. If only we could bring that all back. And we wallow in it every year, listen to some of the old guys wax on about Camelot, and pretend that we’re inspired.

But it’s debilitating, and it’s kept us from moving on. It brought us the Clintons, who have the same adulation of the rich that you engendered. And things could have been worse, I suppose, but it didn’t move us forward either. And by moving us forward I mean building a Democratic party that actually aspires to improve the lot of the poor and helpless—people you actually never showed a whole lot of interest in, in spite of their adulation of you.  A party that actually takes our destruction of the planet—or at least its ability to support our living on it—seriously. A party that has balls enough to call the class warfare being waged by he rich what it actually is—class warfare. What we need is Roosevelt. What we got instead is Chuck Schumer.

So it’s time to move on. I know it’s hard, after all these years. But people change, and I have. It’s time to give up the dream. It was never real in the first place, as we now know. So, sorry. It’s time to get real.

Regards,

Wufnik

2 replies »

  1. Tough words, Wuf – spot on, of course – but tough words. Love these grafs:

    “So every year we trot you out to make ourselves feel just a bit better. We think, of what a better world it would have been. But it’s displacement activity. We keep you around so we can think that we could have had a better world, that we wouldn’t have ended up in this mess, this Nixon-Reagan-Palin nightmare that shows signs of accomplishing nothing other than making the world a worse place. We keep your picture on the wall so that we can persuade ourselves that we’re not staving off a new inquisition.

    “But that’s just deluding ourselves. We do face massive amounts of mendacity and stupidity, and there have been periods when we’ve been led by fools, and worse. And some periods when whatever progress we might have made in improving the human condition has been sabotaged by the same forces.”

    One thing – I must admit that your Nixon hypothesis – horrible as it is – rings far too true for comfort…