Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stronger Together, But So Far Apart*

Great American Melting Pot
I was wrong.

I’m a white Catholic with a college degree, just short of a masters. I test as moderate on political tests (like this Vox questionnaire). And near 50, I’m no longer a starry-eyed idealist.

But I grew up believing in the Schoolhouse Rock song “The Great American Melting Pot” reflected America. I thought our openness made America American.

I was wrong.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived most of my life in multicultural blue-areas: Cleveland, Columbus (OH) and Los Angeles. But I love, and have always loved, meeting people from different cultures. They’ve enriched my life.

Heck, I got straight A’s in university Spanish by conversing with Mexican cooks and dishwashers in the restaurant I worked in. I ate tasty goat and lamb kabobs at a Persian colleague’s wedding. And had an Indian friend whose parents were members of Gandhi’s non-violent “army.”

Etc.

Each interaction enlarged my America. Exposure made me less about me, more about them, and enlarged my sense of “us.”

Back in January, I reckoned 75% plus white people dug Schoolhouse Rock, and would reject Trump. Sure, I understood that racists exist. I’ve got a brash and vocal racist uncle. But in my worldview, racists were the butt of Mel Brooks jokes in Blazing Saddles. “You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons.”  

I was wrong.

Further, our forebears faced xenophobia. “Irish need not apply.” Labeling Italians, many of whom were here illegally, as WOP’s (Wop is short for WithOut Papers). The hunting of Catholics and Mormons. Etc. I figured their descendants would remember.

I was wrong.

It turned out that I’m an outlier among white males, who based on exit-polling voted 70% for Trump. And their number one issue was immigration.

Not that I’ll ever change my mind. I will still be open to people, regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation. But I now see that racism and anti-”them” xenophobia lie at the heart of many white Americans’ worldviews. Worse, I’ve seen a populist Trump ride that wave to victory.

I still say, “God bless America.” But my view of America has changed. Even in jaded middle age, reality can still shred your remaining ideals.

Who knew?