Fourth of July

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

~~ Joni Mitchell

I’ve never really thought much about patriotism, or about what it means to be an American. I’ve never been anything else, but I assume people who live in other countries love their countries too, for the most part, or at least love what their country used to be before something terrible happened that changed everything.

I know how that feels now.

What do – did? – I feel America was about? That it’s a messed up combination of the best and the worst from the very start (the man who wrote “all men are created equal” owned slaves and slept with one of them from the time she was 14 years old), but that we always have had this idea of “being better” at our core. We always aspired to be that city on a hill, though we often fall short. Even though we believe ourselves to be the best country in the world, one of our patriotic hymns includes the line “God mend thine every flaw” acknowledging our imperfection and our intent, fumbling and misguided as it sometimes is, towards the betterment of all.

That intent has changed. Our intent now is perhaps best described as “Me first, and screw everybody else.” Compassion, generosity, and honor have been overshadowed by greed, corruption, and hatred. Our public face to the world is some macabre cross between a joke and a vicious horror. How do we explain to the world that this – the product of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and very possibly the criminal disruption of democracy in favor of power harvesting at the highest levels – is not who we are? The scarier question, for me: What if it is exactly who we are, who we have become?

I grew up in the 60s. My parents were terrified at the changes blowing in on the wind: Negroes (that was the polite term at the time) as regular people? Women as bosses over men? Communes, drugs, frankly sexual music (popular music was always about sex – come on, what do you think Glenn Miller was in the mood for? And by the way, lots of medieval madrigals are downright obscene), natural foods, meditation, they thought the world had gone crazy. I wonder if I’m just seeing the other side of that now. But I don’t think so. I think this is qualitatively, quantitatively, fundamentally different. I think this was a coup. I think America isn’t America any more.

I keep thinking of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” I didn’t know I loved my country until I lost it.

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2 responses to “Fourth of July

  1. If it makes you feel any better, I have just returned from the heartland, in one of those Rustbelt swing states that went for Trump. I talked with several people who voted for Trump and are regretting it. There were fewer pro-Trump signs than when I was there in the spring.

    Also, isn’t it funny how we sometimes come into contact with art under less-than-ideal personal circumstances and hold it against the art? I hate that Paved Paradise song, because it’s been remade a few times, and they seemed to play every single version of that song ever made on a continuous loop when I was working retail in college. It was a kind of MST3K-type psychological experiment, I’m sure of it.

    • A lot of people thought it was somebody else being sold down the river, and that was fine, until it turned out it was them. There’s been a meme going around on Political Twitter (which isn’t really a thing, but we pretend it is anyway): “Member of the Leopard-eating-people’s-faces-off Party: ‘I never thought the leopard would eat MY face.'” I appreciate regrets, but there have been no surprises; every action, even the bizarre behavior, was predictable from escalator to ballot box. Those having regrets now just figured they’d be immune. And now that the mechanisms are in power, I don’t see a way out of this. Then again, I’m not a political scientist, historian, or public affairs attorney, I’m just a scared and depressed old woman who won’t regret dying sooner rather than later.

      Sorry about the song – I feel that way about a lot of early Dylan stuff. Blowin’ in the Wind was an awe-inspiring song the first 2000 times I heard it, then it got a little old, and now it’s just make it stop.

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