I spent last night with some members of my girlfriend's extended family whose political views are largely opposite of mine. I am not the type to shy away from political discussions - I recently brought up the idea of redistributive wealth solutions at a company picnic and spent five minutes being berated by my girlfriend's boss about how giving more money to the poor was "exactly wrong", causing a hush to fall over the rest of the assembled group - and when I know someone leans further right, I often actually bring up politics in order to ascertain exactly why it is that they feel the way they do and, hopefully, plant the seed of a different idea in their mind. Last night was no different - I spent a good ten minutes talking to her cousin about how unrealistic it is that the same legislation that forces insurance companies to provide care to everyone despite any pre-existing condition would also force insurance companies to deny care to a stroke victim if the patient was over 75 - but the conversations I had last night with the rightwing members of the family were actually more about the media and divisiveness than anything else.
Ive found that one of the things both the right and the left have in common (I'm talking about us commoners here, not the actual policymakers or the punditry media) is that we both feel that the division in our country and culture is not only harmful but inaccurate. The thing I kept hearing about last night, and something that I think many of us here at DKos will agree with, is that they were sick of the fact that the prevailing contemporary narrative is of two sides endlessly pitted against each other. One of the most eloquent ways I heard it put was that there's frankly too much talk these days about who the "Real Americans" are.
I am six months shy of thirty. I was born in 1983 and grew up with a sense of great pride in my country. I spent my formative years under Clinton, at a time when the nation was (or at least seemed to be) thriving and there were reasons for my adolescent mind to continue to feel some sense of patriotism. Sure, I learned all about the smallpox blankets and slavery and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and the myriad other crimes against humanity we as a nation had committed over time, but there was always some sense that we were learning from our mistakes and that (even in the case of our treatment of the native peoples of this continent) we had eventually learned our lesson and endeavored to make some reparations for our transgressions. Even when Bush "won" the election in 2000, there was still little sense in my mind that there was any of this divisiveness (even if the margin of victory and the supreme court decision probably should have alerted me otherwise). In fact, it really wasn’t until the Cheney Administration decided to invade Iraq in response to an attack perpetrated by men from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE who trained in Afghanistan that I saw the seeds of division truly begin to assert themselves, planted by the administration itself and nurtured by the complicit or complacent media. The narrative of "with us or against us" became something I was hearing more and more, as many of us on the left (and some on the right) reacted with initial disbelief and eventual outrage to the fact that our leaders were exploiting a devastating national tragedy for political and financial gain. In order to quash that dissent, the warmongers began to make statements about "The Real America", as though those of us who didn’t get in line with their agenda were somehow merely squatters on their land.
Last night, in my conversation with that very eloquent rightwing man, it hit me for the first time just how much that categorization hurt me. I recognize that the intent of the label was to position one group against another, but for me, it did more than that. It made me feel unwanted in my own country, and I suppose I've spent the past decade reacting to that feeling. At first I felt betrayed, then isolated, then persecuted, then angry. Now I'm just resentful.
I resent the concept of a "Real America". I resent that categorization for so many reasons. I resent it for the insinuation that my citizenship is somehow less valid because I disagree with someone else. Disagreement is the very principle this country was founded upon, and to discourage disagreement, especially disagreement with the ruling powers, stands in direct contradiction to the spirit of the founders of this nation. Disagreement, especially with our leaders, is a fundamental attribute of being a "Real American", and I resent the idea that mere obedience qualifies someone as a "Real American".
I resent it for the idea that my friends that had the misfortune of joining the Marine Corps mere weeks before the September 11th attacks, that didn’t agree with the policies of the administration but carried them out anyway, that risked their lives and suffered lifelong injuries in a war of choice against a non-enemy, are not "Real Americans".
I resent it for the accusation that my grandfather, a Jew that came here from Germany in the 1930s and joined the US military days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, who fought against the Nazis and saved the lives of his adopted countrymen, and who votes Democratic in every election, is somehow not a "Real American".
I resent it for the suggestion that my mother, who has spent her entire career working for the Department of Defense, ensuring that the lives of our military personnel are protected by the best equipment available, who spends her spare time working with the poor in her community, and who raised me to feel the aforementioned sense of patriotism despite the transgressions of our leaders, but also sides with the Democratic party, is somehow not a "Real American".
I resent it for the attack on education and progress it represents. Often, discussions about the "Real America" also contain some allusion to the "academic elites", as though being educated is somehow something to be ashamed of. The greatest advancements in technology, policy, medicine and human understanding typically originate in the world of academia and gradually disseminate into the larger culture. I resent the idea that the women and men who spend their lives in pursuit of better ideas and innovations that improve the lives of everyone else are not "Real Americans".
I resent the misrepresentation of a bifurcated America, in which the people that pay little attention to actual policy and cling to racist and classist social structures and exclusionary arrangements are the "Real Americans", and the rest of us, who fight for equality and opportunity - even for those we are supposedly positioned in opposition to - are squatters. I resent the idea that the residents of the states that receive more than two dollars for every federal tax dollar they contribute are the "Real Americans", while those of us that live in states that actually subsidize those states are squatters. I resent the notion that the people in our country that have gained financial success through exploitation and corruption are the "Real Americans", and that the people that rely on financial assistance to feed their families after generations of subjugation and second class-citizenship are squatters, especially since the infrastructure that made the USA the most prosperous nation in history was initially built by the enslaved and indentured servant ancestors of many of those "squatters".
Most of all, I resent the news media. I resent the fact that so many of them pontificate about the "Real America", even though based on the very criteria they employ to make that categorization they most certainly fall outside of that group. I resent them for being lazy and perpetuating the narrative, exploiting the instinctual human fear of exclusion instead of finding stories of import to report on. I resent them for turning our political decisions into nothing more than a horserace, acting as the announcer as two candidates or parties fight for dominance, all but ignoring any of the actual substance of the policies either side represents and pretending there aren't other things going on in the world that merit mention. I resent them for failing to report on what's actually going on in our government with any reliability, unless they see a way to sensationalize the story. I resent them for succumbing to the trap of false equivalency. I resent them for conflating news with punditry and reality with fiction. I resent them for reporting what powerful people say without comment and being too spineless to actually call out lies when they're told. And I resent them for assuming that the American people are or will continue to put up with this deficiency forever.
Because from what I'm seeing, both sides are tired of being told how divided we are. Especially since in the everyday world, we seem to be largely capable of putting our differences aside and fighting for one common goal. Whether it be at work, in the social arena, or pulling survivors from the wreckage of destroyed building, the "Real America" is one that works together to ensure the prolonged prosperity and safety of itself.