We need to talk, America. First, I'd like to clear the air. I apologize on behalf of everyone from Queens. We're not all like this. In addition to presidents, we've also produced such talents as Paul Simon, Joseph Cornell, Nicki Minaj, and Andrew Cuomo. (And, gulp, Bernie Madoff.)
I feel double-crossed America. Four years ago, I wondered aloud in this column what it would take to normalize our political relations in a country increasingly gripped by loathing and fear: "It starts by listening, methinks. What if we started to have informed and honest conversations about what's most important to us? What if we found out that what we had in common was more powerful than our differences? What if we tried engagement? Knee-jerk opposition and blind hatred can't be the only option. What if we started by affording the political other the same treatment we hope for ourselves: not assuming that they are the shittiest people imaginable. What's the worst-case scenario? That we find out that our deepest fears are true and 62 million Americans are really terrible people? That feels a lot like where we are now, and that's a nonstarter for the longevity of the republic."
Well, I communicated with a number of Trump supporters over the past four years. I listened. These are not terrible people. They were taught to believe in you, America, just as I was. But somewhere along the way, the information upon which we construct our realities diverged. I continued on with my fact-based existence and tens of millions decided to believe in Satan-worshipping pedophiles in pizza parlors and a socialist plot behind every Democratic proposal. Our worldviews are so far apart, we don't even live in parallel universes anymore but perpendicular ones.
I'm more worried than ever about the longevity of the republic, America. Our institutions are not used to taking this kind of beating.
The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410. All empires fall, America. Forget about Nazi Germany for a second and think about that.
I don't understand you anymore, America.
If I'm being honest, America, I'm very disappointed in you. Eleven million more people voted for the president this time around than in 2016. Now, 73 million people is a lot of folks—not as many as the almost 79 million who voted for Joe Biden—but still, that's way more people than I expected, considering the president's general incompetence as an executive and inability to deliver on his campaign promises as a politician. But the old adage holds true: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Shame on me, America, for believing the bullshit they taught us in school about American exceptionalism. Being special was nice while it lasted. Our consistent failure to live up to the idea of America began long before 2016. The current administration is the aberration that proves the rule.
What would Pete Seeger think of us now, America?
America, I feel sentimental for the 2000 election. While George Bush the Younger lost the popular vote and the Supreme Court acted in a partisan manner to suppress vote counting in Florida, which led to Bush winning the electoral college and thus the presidency, Al Gore gave such a lovely concession speech that I forgot all about that at the time.
Here's a snippet of Gore's speech: "This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done. And while there will be time enough to debate our continuing differences, now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us. While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president."
Is a norm a norm anymore if it's ignorm-ed, America?
America, what happened to your love of science? You once fetishized rocket ships and the RAND Corporation and promised a life of technological enhancement via strategic defense initiatives, microwave ovens, and test tube babies. Why do so many Americans not trust peer-reviewed results arrived at via the scientific method anymore? If science is not to be believed, how does anyone get into an elevator without paralyzing fear? How does anybody have the confidence to drive their car? Or take antibiotics? (Don't get me started on vaccines. America, you wouldn't believe what some people believe about vaccines.)
Social media is rotting your soul, America. It's an invention on par with the nuclear bomb in terms of its destructive power. As ever, our technology exceeds the grasp of our ethics.
America, I'm over presidential elections. Every four years voters are asked to decide between two people, as if our democracy could be boiled down to a binary option. You contain multitudes America, but our electoral process boils down our diversity to one oversimplified set of slogans or another.
I remember a bumper sticker from years ago, that read: "If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates." Last week, I saw a political lawn sign proclaiming: "DOGS 2020: Because Humans suck."
America, I seriously have my doubts about you.
America, after 30 years of espousing liberal thoughts and opinions, I've decided to become a conservative. And by conservative, I mean someone who wants to conserve our democratic norms and institutions—not destroy them in some anti-majoritarian power grab like the current crop of conservatives. As flawed as they are, they're all we got.
* From Allen Ginsberg's "America," 1956