Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thoughts on Innocence

If 2016 was anything, it was a watershed year that tested the concept of innocence.

From the tragic and shocking deaths of David Bowie and Prince, to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in over a century, through the election of Donald Trump and right into the deaths of Carrie Fisher (and now her mother, Debbie Reynolds), America was forced to grow up a little.

I'll focus on the last bit in a moment. I want to explain why I think that.

America has had a sense of innocence and the concomitant sense of superiority ever since the Revolution that created us. We are one of two nations that span an entire continent from sea to sea (Australia, and sorry Canada, but Alaska cockblocks you on this) and that insulation has protected the citizenry of America from the ravages of war, with one or two exceptions (the Revolution -- including the War of 1812 -- of course, and the Civil War).

We've been able to grow and prosper without a thought to who might come along and take it. This singular insularity has allowed us to create a culture that has to look inwardly in order to find enemies. If there is a single reason why xenophobia has such a long and strange history in this nation built on the backs of the immigrants, it's that fact: no one worries about Canada or Mexico invading us.

Unlike, say, France, which has always had to worry about the Germans, or the English or the Spanish.

Effectively, any damage that America has suffered has generally come at the hands of her own people. This allows for a large measure of naivety, I think. It's easy to call Oklahoma City an act of extremism, even if that extremism is far more mainstream than we'd want to believe, because it goes against the grain of what we laughingly refer to as our values.

When an American drives a truck into a building full of children or even pulls out a semi-automatic weapon and mows them down, he's a nutcase -- despite the fact that he has mainstream media outlets spewing anti-liberal, anti-Christian venom into his ear regularly.

When a Saudi flies an airplane into a building full of adults, he's a fiendish terrorist.

Yet the acts achieve the same result: terror, anger, a sense of weakness.

This year, tho, I think the cracks in our facade of innocence have started to expand. Large chunks of that facade have fallen down. We're starting to see the rotting timbers of our structure and we don't like it much.

The deaths early on in 2016 of Bowie and Prince revealed to us that no one is exempt from the Grim Reaper.

By all accounts, apart from the occasional drug use long ago, David Bowie was a fairly healthy man, with a well of creativity deeper than the dark pools of Iman's eyes. He had much to live for yet (he just released an album the weekend before his death, in fact).

That he could be taken from us in such an insidious way at an age some might consider young tore a veil away from the eyes of many. The death of Prince reinforced that notion, that having it all meant nothing in the end, since it could all be taken in a moment.

And then there was that hideous campaign. The less said of the result, the better, I think, but the universal observation that rings truest is that Trump's "victory" was an invasion of our homeland, a cold war fought in digitalia.

The campaign, however, allowed freaks to fly their flags nationwide.

Which they relished.

While they still only make up 26% of the population, they feel like they are a far larger percentage. The innocence that any one of us is more than three meals away from rioting is on the table again, even if it was truly never off, even if the laws that protected us from the terror of the minority seemed to work well.

People voted for Trump out of anger, to be sure, and anger subsides. If The Donald, the Ferret-headed Fuckface, doesn't acquiesce to their demands, that anger will dissipate a little. If he does acquiesce, it will likely intensify as they find more and more to gripe about.

The American innocence that we are somehow sunny optimists is gone, and will be drowned in the cesspool over the next four years. While Democrats have won six of the last seven Presidential elections, we've only had two presidents to show for it.

If we had three, six terms out of seven, then the optimism that is America would be in force.

The final nail in the innocence coffin, in my mind, is the death of Princess Leia.

I'm sorry, Carrie: you've had a storied and wonderful career, full of tales ad life, but at the end of the day, every obituary featured your portrayal of Princess Leia. That's why I want to talk about it in this framework.

Leia came about at a time when America was starting to lose its grip on its innocence: 1977. Just after Watergate, just ahead of the Iran hostage crisis and the OPEC recession. We elected an honest peanut farmer from Georgia, blissfully ignorant that events would swamp his Presidency and while he was a nuanced and thoughtful man, he skated his administration on the knife's edge in terms of action and policy, an edge that did not leave him much room to maneuver.

Leia and her cohorts reminded us that good men must stand up to tyranny but we viewed that tyranny as an external foe. In our innocence, we believed the Empire to be the Soviet Union when in point of fact, Lucas was pointing out that empires begin at home.

Her death, and the selection of Trump by the Russians to be President, are two sides of the same coin.  Empires grow before our very eyes, but only because nations (or planets, as the case may be) let them be cultivated.

I have little doubt the next four years will prove our innocence was long misplaced, that rather than believing that a leader could fix us, we needed to pick up the axes and shovels and do the fixing ourselves, by electing people who agreed that America needed fixing,  and was not some shining city on a hill.

Instead, we have what we have.

And I have a bad feeling about this.