The disparity between America’s ideals and America’s main street realities are always vast and often stark. This has always been so, most apparently and appallingly for Americans of color and each new wave of immigrants regardless of color.
America’s ideals have, at best, only been partially realized. Too often the nation’s relationship with American ideals has been the proverbial “one step forward, two steps back.”
American ideals are always national aspirations, assumed and popularly coopted into the so-called American Dream. The ideals are raised in “let us believe and struggle” in contrast to the always present, oppressive (whether visible or covert and covered over), racism, exploitation, socially dividing outlier status, swagering narcissistic individualism, and the persistent gangsterism of the American Nightmare.
Yet a nation without aspirations is at risk of hopelessly, as well as arriving at unbridgeable divides between unrealizable ideals and intolerable realties. A nation entrapped in cynicism, divisiveness, hostility. and violence, is at risk of implosion.
What Donald Trump has done, out of his cynically self-serving personality, is strip away the rosy paint of unfulfilled American ideals, revealing to us (to the shock and disgust of some and the everydayness of others, as to the world at large), the brute, menacing and crude realities of Naked America. It is in this exposure that the deeper realities, damage, and danger waits to be acknowledged, engaged, and worked toward replacement, when and wherever conditions cannot be mended, or refuse being transformed in favor of democratizing inclusiveness.
There is a clear and present existential threat and it is vital to moving beyond this agitated endangerment that Trump be voted from office. In Trump’s aftermath there remains and (again) begins the dedicated work to overcome and replace the ugly truths of American power, prejudice, privilege, and too frequent indifference to the dehumanizing principles of “profit before people” and “might makes right”. This is work that begins with actualizing equal dignity regardless of race, gender or orientation and enters robustly into the process of education, and re-education, as an intergenerational bequest and duty for furtherance and the endurance of democracy.
When the Civil Rights Movement initially reached national level, the reaction of White Flight took place in fear of “criminals” from opening ghettos. This was not then and is not now a way forward toward an improved and inclusive America. People cannot and should not expect those who have suffered from systemic, long term disadvantage, impoverishment and affliction to meet those who are benefiting from the advantages of privilege on an equal footing or, as the cliché has it, on a level playing field without changes happening, including changes in conditioned perception, civic rules and values, economics and law. .
Nor is there solution in liberal fantasies of monochrome assimilation, or reactional regressions. The American melting pot is itself one of the disastrous illusions of American ideals, the rupturing of which is witnessed now daily in travail on the nation’s streets. People who are convinced through experience that they are only waiting for it to be their turn to be targeted, will not always and forever submit to the role of being “sheep to the slaughter”. Resistance to oppression has a way of rising out of the anguish and bondage of the oppressed. As Camus said, up to a point the terms of injustice have been endured. Beyond a certain point they are not but have become unendurable. Resistance against the inhumanity of human denial is a “no” to continuing the suffering-inequality of those held down and a ‘yes” to the solidarity-outcry for human recognition and human rights.
All human beings at the level of attaining awareness of their being human, regardless of race or other factors of diversity, have within their humanity the need for decency, security, possibilities of opportunity and the freedom of conscience, the sovereign freedom, to think, feel and express without reprisal the integrity of their personal vulnerabilities, aspirations, and moral convictions. Without this core recognition and without this core value freedom is denigrated and moral conscience crucified. This is applicable to the ordinary lives of individuals as also to the status of social discourse.
Nor can we take these states and this patchwork of populations to constitute a legitimate union so long as we flee one another, in obstinacy and malice, turn our faces away, hide and participate in the cruel conspiracy of silence to deny and to avoid the challenges, but also ignoring the walled off enrichments, of variety.
Before these human truths and rather than the debacle brought on by pernicious hypocrisy, I wish to suggest a two part approach: (1) an acceptance, in knowledge, empathy and understanding, of cultural pluralism and (2) a sincere willingness, turned to concrete practicalities, to extend the empowerment of privilege across the board, without fear or animosity, to assist in the ultimate overcoming of structural disadvantage. This does not mean that everyone ends up becoming “poor,” but instead that we set before us a realizable goal for every citizen being afforded dignity and equality before the law, as established and upheld through a unifying social force of democratic participation, love of openness, and pride in responsibility.
It is in such a direction that we can move beyond blind prejudice, politicized ignorance, beyond Trump and Trumpism, and beyond historical atrocity as well, in an earnest and honest ongoing search for the life blood and guiding light of an American soul.
David Sparenberg is a world citizen, environmental & peace advocate & activist, actor, poet-playwright, storyteller, teacher and author.