Old Glory Reloaded

“Well my name, it is nothin. My age, it means less.”

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Old Glory Reloaded
By J.L. Quinby

I dipped out of the scene five years ago.  The last thing I wrote was a theory, my theory, my always-very-humbled opinion on the American political landscape. The thesis itself, the actual realization of it, suddenly made any future political writing appear futile. There was nowhere else for me to go and I’d said all I needed to say about any of it. Everything in politics, I said, always came down to the same argument between the opposing forces of fear and faith.

The faith I’m talking about isn’t religious faith, and that’s why I am skeptical to even use the word. To me, it has nothing to do with religion or even God, at least not the God as we commonly define it.

I’m talking about faith in your fellow man. Faith in your neighbor. Faith in yourself. If you want to take it a step further, yes, you can even call it love. And if I wanted to take if further than that, the farthest it probably can go, which I do, then I’d call it courage. Fear versus faith. Fear versus love. Fear versus guts.

That last thing I ever wrote dealt with this dichotomy in some small detail. You can find it here. I was younger and obviously a little more idealistic. But I was on the cusp, just arriving at the very beginning of an idea, an emotional human crisis that had been continuing since the beginning of time, one that truly does encapsulate the pain, the triumph, the heartbreaks and the victories that make up the ongoing story of human progress.

I think every worthwhile decision we make, individually or collectively, comes to us as the proverbial fork in the road. One path is dictated by our fears. The other is guided by our greatest hopes, by our faith in one another and in ourselves. Walking down the first is easy, and perhaps it is the path more often traveled. Walking down the second takes courage. People might call you foolish for taking it, and if you took the first, it wouldn’t make you a bad person. At the very best, it would make you human.

Such is the struggle that has faced every generation at critical moments in history, just before they marched on, facing plenty of resistance before ultimately achieving greatness. This is the power of courage, guided by undying faith in your fellow man. In American history alone, we see examples of this. Whether it was the founding generation in Boston and Philadelphia daring to secede from the British crown, or the newly-formed Republican Party daring to declare slavery unconstitutional across this land, or Dr. King daring to declare “I Have a Dream.” We’ve done it many times before. There’s no reason why we can’t do it again.

Just as it always has, once again, this choice is staring us right in the face. We’ve been here before. Yet why does it feel different? What do we do now?

I’ve got to be honest with you folks. I am actually kind of happy Donald Trump won.  Before you freak out, let me explain…

I didn’t want to be another voice. Another sound in the ongoing noise everywhere from the talking heads on YouTube to the long posts and lectures on Facebook. A few years back, I decided that I didn’t want to be in that crowd anymore. I stopped writing. I was through with the whole game. It was a racket. I felt the walls closing in and I wanted out. Politics. I don’t even like the word.

Sorry for making this personal. But for me, there is no point in writing if it’s not personal. And this has always been personal.

Sometimes I think people take politics too personal. That being said, I can’t blame them because many things that ought to be personal for many of us have been made into political issues.

The best example is the environment.  Global warming and climate change are commonly deemed political issues, even though labeling them as such belittles their true urgency. You don’t have to believe in global warming or climate change to understand this. We all want to live on a healthy planet. At least I do.

I want to know that our oceans and wildlife will be protected, and that the air I breath is clean. Furthermore I want a greater understanding of the fact that our planet is not just our home—and the only one we’ve got—but a living, breathing organism that will retaliate if we keep pushing it. You don’t have to dig too deep to find that most scientists have long arrived at an overwhelming consensus on the matter. Obviously, I’m no scientist. That’s why I put my faith in the people that our society has long entrusted, over generations, the responsibility of figuring these things out, for the safety and well-being of our world and those who live in it.

This shouldn’t be a debate at all, let alone a political one. This isn’t about left and right. This is about our health. If we don’t focus more on living in greater harmony with our environment, on the overall stability of our planet, there won’t be anything political left to discuss, because politics won’t exist. Neither will rules. Only survival.

Do I take politics personally? No, I don’t. I don’t view people in political terms. But I do view people in how they choose to view the rest of the world. It’s one thing to vote for a guy who denies climate change, it’s another to ignore the environment yourself in your actions or your philosophy; just like it’s another thing entirely to judge or dismiss struggling people across the world as hopeless, lazy, sick and crazy, or even inherently inferior to others.

It’s another thing to choose fear and anger over faith and love. To me, that decision will always determine our ultimate reality.

I don’t take politics personal. It’s just that things that I do take personal have become increasingly political. Maybe that’s what got me into politics 12 years ago, and maybe it’s what’s brought me back now, with this progression having reached a point now that it is undeniable.

It’s been comfortable on the sidelines. It’s been safe being an observer. All of us, young and old, tend to fall into the same way of thinking about our life and times, that while things might get chaotic they also eventually turn out alright.

I’m not saying that this is all just some dumb fantasy. I’m not saying that it’s time to be a cynic. I’m saying it’s time to have a little bit of faith, not in the world’s ability to fix itself, but in our own ability as individuals to effect a greater change in the world. If things do eventually turn out alright, it’s only because the people, not politicians, rise up and make it so.

Now I’m not going to bash Donald Trump. There’s nothing more I can add to that discussion that hasn’t been said already. All that I can say is that he is exactly what we’ve asked for, and that I won’t condemn something that has already been so condemned by many who helped create it.

First, we wanted someone who tells it like it is, who doesn’t have a filter. We wanted someone who is sincere, even if they are sincerely an asshole. I have a theory that many Americans, on the left and right, have for many years secretly desired this kind of candidate and leader. Someone who cut the bullshit, who had no ties to DC and who was gonna drain the swamp that we complain about every election year.

Eight years ago, I was a part of that crowd. I thought the incoming president would be that guy; and I, like many people, thought he was going to somehow save the day. I wore that iconic mural a couple times, the one that totally amped the hype and looked a little too much like the Che Guevara portraits you might see in coffeehouse, on street walls, or on jewelry and t-shirts worn by young kids who don’t have a clue. In fairness, all the hype aside, that campaign was a far more positive one that looked to the future without any talk of banning Muslims, George W’s birth certificate, or building a really, really huge wall across the Mexican border.

That being said, we took things for granted, as we always have. We counted on one man, someone else to do the work for us after we cast our vote, or didn’t cast our vote.

It’s not just young people who have sat on the sidelines. We Americans in general tend to complain at the state of things while cynically denying any sort of power we might have to change the course of the country.

Most people don’t vote. And most of the people that do vote only do it every four years, and they usually ignore everything that happens in between. This includes mid-term elections, or staying in touch with representatives, marching, getting involved in some way or just being vigilant about where we get our information…if we seek any relevant information at all, if we haven’t totally buried our heads in the sand.

The fact of the matter is, and I shouldn’t say fact because it is still just a theory, most people have had their heads stuck in the sand, and I think everything that has unfolded recently is a direct, if not the most clear, product of this collective decision by We the People.

We’ve been waiting for Donald in more ways than one, and we’ve been lacking democracy long before he showed up. Occupy Wall Street didn’t happen by accident, and it’s failure to succeed was no accident either. Democracy can never truly function without actual, mostly organized participation by the people. When we cease to care about our government, indeed our own democracy; then democracy, our government, will cease to care about us. We want to stick our heads in the sand? This is what we get. Our government will produce leaders who fail to serve us. It will produce leaders who don’t lead. It will produce people who only serve themselves. It will produce tyrants.

Trump is not the first example of this, he’s just the most obvious. You might call him a live wire or loose cannon. You might say he’s more sensitive, or insensitive, than any forth-grade playground bully. Say what you want about him, but I think the only thing for certain is that his ideology ultimately amounts to just one thing. Himself. Now he’s the most powerful man in the world. He is our president, and we’re about to experience the consequences of it.

Why am I happy he won? Because while he is consequence, I think he is also the antidote.

Things are heating up. Cages are being rattled. Trump loves to talk numbers, as he did so famously with respect to his inauguration. You can do your own research on that and compare the number of people on the National Mall between Inauguration Day and the day following. Either way, you’ll find it hard to deny that 2.6 million people participating in 673 marches, in all 50 states and in 32 countries around the world on January 21st is one hell of a reaction.

On the weekend Trump announced his travel ban, the ACLU received more than 350,000 online donations, totaling $24 million in that weekend alone. Normally, it raises about $4 million in one year.

On another note, the National Park Service, during its centennial year in 2016, brought in a record amount of visitors. That broke the record set only the year before. Recognition for our national parks is growing, and I can attest to this personally. I first experienced the parks during a road trip across the country in 2015, and again the following year during another, much longer drive that lasted about two months. During both experiences, I was struck by the amount of people, mostly young people, who shared in my enthusiasm and love for these places. Don’t take my word for it, take a look on social media. Search any one of the parks on Instagram. Young people especially, throughout America and across the world are experiencing the same connection to parks that I have, realizing that they are indeed a national birthright.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but in an era when Congress suddenly paves the way for the privatization of these lands, or proposes legislation allowing for corporate oil drilling in the National Parks, when the president approves construction of a pipeline grossly infringing upon sacred Native land, or when the EPA faces threat of liquidation; I can’t help but wonder whether young people suddenly realize that even America’s Best Idea needs to be championed and protected now more than ever.

Dare I say that people are beginning to lift their heads out of the sand, opening their eyes and speaking up with a level of emotion greater than any we’ve seen in half a century?

I see marching in the street. I see organizing. I see people rising in defense of everything from civil rights and the environment, to the importance and integrity of our nation’s immigrants and our own free press. Everything I’ve ever read about the American Progressive Era, or understood at all about the 1960s feels as though it’s coming back with a fuel to the fire far greater than before. Let’s hope it’s guided by clear conviction and maybe some rock n’ roll. Let’s hope the music is just as good, if not even greater than before. I know a few good musicians.

I’ve got a feeling more people across this land are realizing the same things themselves, that if we want democracy, we’ve got to fight for it. We’ve got to pull up our sleeves and get to work.

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“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long,” said Dr. King, “but it bends toward justice.”

He was just one man, not a politician, having never held any sort of office, who might have done more to move this country forward than any one president or lawmaker in our history; without the use of violence, armed only with a profound clarity, purpose and faith in people, not just black or white, but in people everywhere in the United States and all across the world, regardless of creed or color. He stared down and defied the greatest, ongoing sin of mankind and aspired for all of us to rise higher.

He was one man, and he believed in people. He embraced love and compassion over everything else. To me, that is courage.

I’ve always thought he was the greatest American. As the sun still rises from the east, and we’re all remembering what it means to be an American, there’s no telling who might rise with it.

I’ve got a feeling it will be more than just one.

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