This Columbus Day, Does America Need To Be Rediscovered?
I’ve been taking a lot of walks down memory lane in this blog, especially this summer and fall. But is it any wonder that people would be thinking nostalgically about the past, with the “la realidad supera la ficción” state of things at this moment? With the grim outlook on the future? Honestly, I haven’t been able to dream up a future beyond a few months from now. If you can, please share how you’re able to do so.
I generally shy away from writing about politics. With my lack of deeper knowledge I feel unqualified to be a voice in this area. But today is a national holiday in Spain and there’s a lot brewing in the political world that I’d like to think through “out loud.” (I’ll include some insightful links in bold throughout this post to share what I’ve been reading.)
October 12 is the Día de Hispanidad here in Spain – also known back home as Columbus Day. (Fun fact: it’s also Virgin of Pilar Day!) As we all know by now, this is the day Columbus mistakenly believed he’d landed in India and led to the “discovery” and subsequent European colonization of the American continent. A few hundred years later, here we are. Is this what the European colonists or the American founding fathers had in mind? On the other hand, aren’t we much better off than we were in the days of slavery, pillaging, and the Spanish Inquisition?
If we look back through history, won’t we just see that things really don’t change all that much? Black people are still having to raise their kids to fear powerful white men. Women still suffer from rape, abuse and misogyny every day. Religious groups are still fighting for control of our laws (and even our wombs).
It’s now three weeks from US Election Day. I’ve been watching intently from abroad as the “leader of the free world” grapples with his own case of COVID-19, ultimately brushing it off as something not to worry about – “don’t let it dominate your life!” I’m obsessively refreshing news websites every day, wondering if his illness has taken a turn and he’ll finally have to admit this is serious.
It seems that nothing can shake the confidence of this president, who has shrugged off any and all responsibility for basically everything negative that has happened in the United States in the last four years. Nothing can make him say “I was wrong.” His own advisers coddle him like a child who can’t hear the word “no.” Somebody calls him out on something legitimate? “Fake News!!!”
On top of that, he’s worrying journalists and the rest of us with the very real possibility that he won’t accept losing the election. The possibility that he could win the election by popular vote isn’t completely unfounded, either. The United States is a divided nation, becoming more polarized every day. It’s harder and harder to understand those who don’t view things the same way we do.
I’ve watched on Instagram as case after case of unarmed Black people being murdered by police or racist neighbors and then seen the news of the uprising of extreme-right groups and clashes between them and BLM protestors. I’ve watched the police get away with a slap on the wrist in court. Or maybe they get demoted or fired, but no actual justice is served. Instagram gets in an uproar about it, and people take to the streets, but what’s changing? How long will this take to get better? What’s the best way to move forward and effect change?
I’ve read about how far-right groups are making themselves into sort of militias, planning to kidnap Michigan’s governor. Before that, back in April a group of white protestors walked into the Michigan capitol building WITH GUNS to protest COVID-19 safety measures. This tweet sums up everything:
Black people get executed by police for just existing, while white people dressed like militia members carrying assault weapons are allowed to threaten State Legislators and staff.
📣Our gun laws are so broken. https://t.co/w6Vw97kTV9
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) April 30, 2020
People on all sides are angry, and tweeting about it. Trust is eroding. David Brooks writes in The Atlantic:
Renewal is hard to imagine. Destruction is everywhere, and construction difficult to see. The problem goes beyond Donald Trump. The stench of national decline is in the air. A political, social, and moral order is dissolving. America will only remain whole if we can build a new order in its place.
I’m watching this all unfold from abroad, wondering what can be done and if I’m doing the right thing by staying here. On the other hand, my gut reaction tells me that if Trump wins this election, I won’t be willing to go back to the US for a long time. It feels unfair to make that kind of statement, but my worry is real. Four years of watching my own country be gaslighted by its leader is enough to be alarmed.
Alarmed enough that this year I desperately want to convince the people in my life to please, please not vote for this man. But I find myself paralyzed from actually doing so, 1) for fear of damaging those relationships beyond repair, and 2) for trying not to meddle in the political views of others.
Alarmed enough to wonder what my home country is going to look like a year from now.
Meanwhile, here in Spain and around the world…
Spain isn’t doing a whole lot better. This year is one of the most awkward October 12th celebrations in recent history, with the national government sparring with the local government in Madrid over COVID-19 measures and the right and the left increasingly at odds with each other. Protestors here take to the streets to encourage president Pedro Sánchez to resign and to complain about his handling of the coronavirus crisis. And not only in Spain – it seems nearly every country in the world is having massive protests about a number of issues.
In the great Information Age, what’s driving so much division? Has it always been this way, but now we’re super exposed to the opinions of others? Is social media and endless news watching leading us further and further into our own bubbles? Are we all just so scared and vulnerable that we’re reverting back into a tribal mentality?
As Hannah Arendt once observed, fanaticism is a response to existential anxiety. When people feel naked and alone, they revert to tribe. Their radius of trust shrinks, and they only trust their own kind. Donald Trump is the great emblem of an age of distrust—a man unable to love, unable to trust. When many Americans see Trump’s distrust, they see a man who looks at the world as they do.