I’ve started blogs the past two weeks, but stopped short. First, I had a back problem that made it difficult to sit at the computer long enough.
Then, mayhem happened.
The blog I started before the mayhem was about the Kennedy Center Awards. Caroline Kenney introduced the evening with the words of her father. Who a country honors, he had said, was a reflection of your country.
I think that is true. The honorees reflected not just the diversity of our country, but the grandeur of the diversity and its creative force. Bill T. Jones, a tall lean gay African American honored for his choreography, moved gracefully in his seat to the music of Merle Haggard, honored for his Bakersfield sound, and who wrote “I’m Proud to be an Oakie from Muskogee.” Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, and Carol Channing, defied the media-spun definition of beautiful women as they performed the music of Jerry Herman. Everyone rocked to the music of Paul McCartney, who had looked to the rock and roll of America for inspiration. Oprah Winfrey was honored for among other accomplishments, producing the works of African American women.
The range of honorees, I think is distinctively American. It is our diversity.
Then mayhem happened.
And I got depressed.
I was in my teens when Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy were assassinated, the three little girls were killed in a church bombing, civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi, fire hoses and attack dogs were let loose on American citizens peacefully assembling for their right to vote. I was getting ready for spring break in my freshman year of college when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and then finishing finals two months later when Robert Kennedy was shot and killed.
Over the last forty years I have seen the attempted assassinations of George Wallace, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. I lived in San Francisco when George Moscone and Harvey Milk were gunned down. I returned from the movie “9 to 5” to learn that John Lennon had been killed.
And then there are the mass killings at schools. How many have there been?
What surprised me the most about the Tuscon mayhem was how unsurprised I was. I have come to expect it.
And I don’t know what to do with that.
Yes, it was a deranged man who ended lives literally, and ended the lives as they knew it for countless others. There is no direct line between the mayhem and the vitriolic environment.
But words do lead to deeds.
The real demon, I think, even more than the gun metaphors, is the noxious notion, perpetuated with enthusiasm by the likes of Sarah Palin, that there are “real Americans,” and then there are the others who are trying to take America from them.
Brit Hume, with stunning ignorance, thought that the Native American blessing that opened the memorial service in Tucson was peculiar. He blessed the doors and reptiles Hume said.
I think we should not dismiss the discussion about vitriolic words that was begun after last week. I think we need to continue it.
Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Britt Hume have a first amendment right to speech. But I think we need to call their speech what it is: words from the tiny hearted.
The heartland of America is not located in the Midwest. It extends from coast to coast, from our northern to our southern borders. The promise of America isn’t the accumulation of wealth, but equality under the law, the mechanism that recognizes that dignity of the individual, rather than prejudice of a group, is the basis for law.
Sarah Kaufman wrote in the Washington Post that the work of choreographer Bill T. Jones showed us the “radiant beauty of the marginalized.”
“Remember, too, that little-used word that has just about dropped out of public and private usage: tenderness. It can’t hurt. And that other word: soul — call it spirit if you want, if it makes it any easier to claim the territory. Don’t forget that either. Pay attention to the spirit of your words, your deeds.”
If there is such a thing as American exceptionalism, it is the tender spot we hold in our heart for the radiant beauty of the marginalized.