Thursday, November 4, 2004

What Now?

Depressed, demoralized, despondent. This is not how I felt four years ago. Four years ago I could handle it. After all, it was a fluke, a mistake, an anomaly. Four years ago the people had spoken and their message was that, despite our electoral system, they wanted to continue the prosperity and relative sanity that we had enjoyed as a nation over the previous eight years. Four years ago I believed I could handle the next four years with relative ease. After all, there I was, ready to take on the world. Ready to graduate from college, ready to get out into the world and succeed. Four years ago was very different than today.

I remember watching the results come in on that November night. Three of the most important people in my world were with me and we were sure that our guy would win. We were having cocktails and making jokes about the coke-head who had run for president. Then Peter Jennings called Florida for Bush. Then for Gore. Then for Bush. Then it was too close to call, and it was one am on the west coast and we all had to work in the morning. I remember my girlfriend at the time crying, leaning against the counter in a dark corner of the kitchen and weeping quietly. “So many people are going to die,” she said, and as I tried to console her I wondered if she was right. We all knew things would change. We knew the country would quickly become a much more conservative place. We all knew this asshole was itching for a war, all but promising one during his campaign, but I dismissed her words as fear and emotion. I thought that everything would be all right; after all, what’s four years in the grand scheme of things? How much damage could really be done in just four years? And it would only be four years, the guy was elected, not by the people, but by a loophole.

The next nine months went much as I predicted. Bush decided to tie some foreign aid to a promise by countries not to council abortion in planned-parenthood clinics. I looked forward to watching Will Ferrell open SNL by lampooning our dumb-ass in the white house each and every week. I surfed web sites that kept tallies and archives all the ways the dumb ass butchered the English language. Then, just two weeks after I had made a trip out to NY and DC to look at grad schools, “it” happened. The phone rang at almost the same time the alarm clock went off. I turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane hit. And just like that we had our war.

Like every other male age 18-26 the thing I thought of most in the following weeks was the draft. Like many, I believed that this would be a protracted conflict. Also, the uncertainty regarding North Korea and the country’s collective blood lust led me into fears of World War III. Not the devastating nuclear war of so many bad 80’s movies, but a real multi nation, two front war, that would drain our nations resources and man power. As time has shown our worst fears were never realized. There have been no more major terrorist attacks on US soil. The war in Afghanistan did not become a war against a united Arab world. The North Korean front never materialized. Bully for us.

As 2000 became 2001 and then 2002 I became desensitized to it all. After all, everything was happening to someone else. Someone else was at Guantanamo Bay, someone else was fighting in Iraq, someone else was getting a tax rebate. Me? I was trying to get through Grad school. I didn’t have the time or the energy to be outraged. I left that up to someone else. I was in denial, in my own little dream-and waiting for the day President Snowman would be ousted. I had faith. Sure, I still remembered the girl who worked at the Subway sandwich shop on the campus of my undergraduate university. She was nice enough, smart enough to attend a state school, and pleasant in that ignorant Midwestern way, the type of person you’d see on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” She said she had voted for Bush because of the tax cuts and the rebate she was sure was in the mail that very day. She had no idea that because of her job as a minimum wage sandwich jockey she wouldn’t be getting anything. She simply did not make enough money to qualify.

Still, the fact remained that this dumb ass hadn’t really been elected the first time. And after a war and an occupation that was still claiming the lives of US service people (I am SO PC), after so many people received no rebate and no tax cut, after watching the man invent SO MANY WORDS, I was sure he would be gone. Maybe not in a landslide, maybe not run out on a rail, but gone, which was good enough. After all, raise your hand if, like me, you actually feel less safe than you did last year, and the year before that. (OK now put your hand down, you look silly and people will begin to talk.) I had faith in the people. I had faith that the country would look back at the sexy Clinton years with all of its economic promise, cigar blow jobs, and complete lack of fear of being turned in as a terrorist by your neighbors, and say “I want that. I’ve had enough recession, enough blood for oil, enough being the butt of every world political joke.” I had taken my third drive across country. I had seen the people, met them, talked to them, and they were good, they would do the right thing.

Now this. This time there is no excuse. Bush won. The lawyers were there. The election reforms were there. So far I haven’t heard of any “voting irregularities.” Voter turnout was high. We did it to ourselves this time. So here I sit, the very picture of dejection. Dreading the next four years. Feeling for all the world as if the Clinton years were but a brief respite from the ultimate direction of the country. After all, the axis of evil has been in power for most of my life, and I don’t even remember my three years under Carter. I’ve lost faith. I’m back to being a cynic. I’m back to believing that the only real civilization to be found in this country is on the coasts, the rest of the country simply exists to provide me with food, cheap manufacturing, and girls with sultry southern accents. I don’t know if I can face the next four years. I don’t have the intellectual cocoon of grad school to retreat to. I no longer have the activist in my life who provided balance for my narcissism. I don’t know what the next term will bring. The specter of the draft still looms and I don’t see our military actions decreasing. By the end of this term my brother will be 18, what will happen to him if these wars continue? How can you ever reach a resolution to a war on something as elusive as “terrorism?” The real terror for me is that there’ another Bush out there. He’s said he won’t run, but what if he does? What if he gets his eight years? By that time I’m sure there will be another, young Bush just reaching the age where he’s eligible to run. We may be headed for the world’s first popularly elected monarchy. Of course, depending on what happens in the next few years we may get four years of The Presinator as a change of pace.

So there it is my few but loyal readers. I have no words of solace. I love this country. I always have. This is the land that gave us baseball, and blue jeans, and a free public education. No matter what I’ve though of the government I’ve always loved the people of this country. I stand up during the national anthem because even though it represents everything I hate about our government it represents all the people I love as well. I keep an American flag, not because I support our foreign policy, but because it’s my flag, and when I see it I think of my grandmother, and my brother, and my uncles who fought for that flag even though their parents and siblings were locked up in concentration camps back home, the uncles who fought in order to prove that they were just as much a part of the fabric of this country as anyone else. But now my faith is shaken. The anthem is just a song; the flag is just a collection of colors. We live in a country dominated by rubes and morons, people ready to believe whatever they are told by whoever has the best advertising. As I get older, I am slowly becoming a religious man, because I feel as though it’s all there is left. I’ve lost my faith in everything else.

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