Monday, July 11, 2016

Mourning In America

I am crying my head off. My mother has just disappeared behind a green canvas curtain. We are in a large converted florist shop on Lefferts Blvd in Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y.  It is Election Day, November, 1936. I was three and a half years old six weeks ago.

Memory is a blurry lens but this scene is so vivid in my head I’m going to declare it my earliest recall as unlikely as that may sound.

I know I was a cry baby. My older brother told me so. Victim, perhaps, of open diaper pins, or my mother’s general hysteria or a chronic earache I’m told I suffered from. Dating this event was not hard. It was definitely the day of voting and it couldn’t have been 1940. I would have grown into my ear canal by then.

I could make myself precocious and say my tears flowed that day afraid FDR would lose to Alf Landon. Had I read the newspapers and listened more attentively to the fireside chats instead of playing with my little red fire engine I would have known there was nothing to fear but fear itself. But fear itself was no small thing.

Eighty years later little has changed. I still fear Election Day. The specter of a Trump White House is enough to put me on a pea-green boat sailing down my labyrinthine ear canal with an owl and a pussycat.

How is it possible we have regressed so far so fast? Every piece of progressive legislation passed under Roosevelt was done in collusion with a nest of vipers called the Solid South at the expense of Blacks and poor whites.  Descendants of these scoundrels now overwhelm Congress as the 0bstructionist Party. Their racist pathology infects our entire society, particularly our police departments and courts.

My early tears were prophetic. There is much to grieve about. Racism was written into our birth certificate. The Constitution counted slaves as 60% of a human being and with that the worm of tyranny was institutionalized. Black lives did not matter except as instruments of forced, unpaid labor. The legacy of slavery morphed into a virtual Apartheid in the South and housing segregation in the North. Brutality practiced by a paramilitary police force is an extension of this American illness. It has been festering for four centuries.

In this summer movie called Election Season the Republican candidate could be cast as the sort of man who might incite a lynch mob. He speaks the language of defamation and knows instinctively how to mobilize mean-spirit into mindless violence.

If Trump prevails in November you may hear a cacophony of sobs. There will be keening. Owls will hoot. Cats might even bark.

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