A country at war
I step off the airplane into the California sunshine and am welcomed by the sweet voice of America’s senior citizen diva, Barbra Streisand. She is singing, through someone’s car radio, “Don’t Lie to Me,” a new song she has written to protest the Donald Trump presidency.
“Why can’t you just tell me the truth?
Hard to believe the things you say
Why can’t you feel the tears I cried today?”
It is an arrival moment that reflects the anguish of this country and its divided people.
This is a country at war. It is a civil war in which cannons are replaced by angry shouting and outright hatred.
The battles are not over pieces of ground. They are cultural battles driven by fears of change and loss of status.
Like Canada and some other countries, the U.S. is being transformed by growing population diversity and the swelling influence of educated, liberated women. Unlike some other countries it is not handling it well.
Change has created a culture of grievance in the U.S. The white, male privileged class is grieving its loss of power and control. Dissenting movements such as #MeToo are grieving and fighting attitudes toward women and the male dominance of society.
The brutal storm over the elevation of the dyspeptic Brett (I Like Beer!) Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court pushed the anger and disunity in this country to stage centre. It also highlighted the political polarization making compromise and working together for common good an impossibility.
“The country is gripped by a climate of division and distrust rivalled by few other moments in the recent past,” the New York Times reported recently.
One columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, wrote last week that he began his journalism career covering civil war in Lebanon but “I never thought I would end my career covering a civil war in America.”
It is not uncommon to hear or read opinions comparing what is happening today to the events leading to the 1861-1865 American civil war.
Historian Joanne B. Freeman wrote recently of how the U.S. political scene today is similar to the 1850s when Congress became embattled by the slavery crisis that caused Americans to fight each other roughly 150 years ago.
“In 2018, a crisis over different fundamentals — immigration, the rule of law, the status and safety of women and people of colour — is doing much the same,” she wrote.
Most worrisome is the state of the U.S. Congress, which was designed by the founding fathers to be an oracle of debate, compromise and consent. It has fallen to the level of a cockfighting ring.
Writes Ms. Freeman:
“A dysfunctional Congress can close off a vital arena for national dialogue, leaving us vulnerable in ways that we haven’t yet begun to fathom.”
If Californians are worried about all this, a visitor would never know it. Things are cool and relaxed here.
The autumn sun is warm and bright, the end of the fire season is in sight and there have not been any recent earth tremors. Also, Fleet Week activities have just ended after providing a relaxing distraction from the nation’s problems.
Fleet Week is a celebration of the country’s naval forces. People stroll, sit and picnic along the beaches of San Francisco Bay while watching warships steam under the Golden Gate bridge and the Blue Angels aerial acrobat team perform loops and dives overhead.
Relaxed though they may be, people in this part of California cannot avoid the signs of turmoil.
Sunday I went to the historic Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland to see Fahrenheit 11/9, the anti-Trump film by Michael Moore. The marquee announced that the theatre will not enforce the film’s R rating prohibiting anyone under 17 from viewing it.
Accompanying the announcement was the following sentence: “Political discourse must not be stifled.”
After leaving the theatre I realized the importance of allowing all teenagers to see the film. Today’s teens are the ones who will have to work to put the “United” back into the United States of America.
I also realized the importance of the film to Canadians. We need to learn from America and clean up the way we do politics to ensure the same things don’t happen to us.