“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
— Hermann Göring (in an interview during the Nuremberg Trials)
Last Sunday, I was made to question the extent of my freedom as an American citizen. The freedom in whose purported defense wars are waged and millions of human beings killed; the freedom that is touted, quantified, and measured, dick-like, throughout half of the contemporary American country music catalogue. Last Sunday, I realized fully the contradictions upon which my country was founded and continues to perpetuate; realized that antagonistic, caustic strains of bigotry and anti-intellectualism persist in a nation that, nonetheless, megaphones liberty as its core tenet.
If you’ve never been to Bluewater, Canada, I suggest you go. It’s a charming town in Southern Ontario that sits on Lake Huron. Among its many features are superb fish and chips, kind people, and Steam Whistle beer. My partner and I had the pleasure of staying in a log home there last weekend and it was a truly renewing experience. We walked our host’s golden retriever on the beach, listened to spring birds in song, and twice watched the sun slip like a molten peach below the horizon. We were riding the wave of this peace, our skin still sun-warm, when we crossed the St. Clair River, by way of the Blue Water Bridge, to re-enter America in Port Huron, MI. Like most everyone on a nation’s doorstep, my partner and I encountered a border guard perched in a small, enclosed booth. Our gatekeeper was grim and stocky, wearing a short-sleeve uniform in languid, foreskin-hug of biceps nearing their flexible end. I said hello, stated exactly the town, address, purpose, and duration of our stay in Canada, and handed him both my own, and my partner’s (she is Australian) passport. He proceeded to tell me to take off my sunglasses, then asked my partner if she had a Green Card and if she could hand it to him. We both complied. He then asked me where I worked. I told him. He asked my partner where she worked. She told him she was a History Professor and named the university at which she taught. The guard then, baiting the invective hook, asked: “European history”? She replied: “Yes. Medieval History.” At this, the guard launched into an open mic about how Europe is crumbling because they are all socialists, and that—the entire continent we presumed—was now reckoning with the socialist monster they’d created. This continued for roughly 40 seconds until the guard abruptly stopped, looked me dead in the eye, and said: “You’re not a socialist are you?” Note: The man was outfitted with a holstered Beretta 96D “Brigadier” pistol and had the authority to deny us access to our home. My skin froze; I looked straight ahead. I was both scared and stunned; made to feel like a criminal and outsider for an ideology suspected. As the 40 second anti-socialist preface, and his question’s accusatory edge made clear, this man was serious. In this moment of goose-bumped, cordite silence I knew, entirely, who shoots unarmed black teenagers 16 times in Chicago; who beats and murders mentally-ill prisoners in Dade County; who sucker punches protesters at Donald Trump rallies in Fayetteville; who chokes Eric Garner in Staten Island; who shoots Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis; who murders 6 million human beings of the Jewish faith across Europe. This man. This man—whose small eyes now jackhammer my tensed jaw— and the many like him, often uniformed and drunk on a militant cocktail of fear, rage, ignorance, and suspicion. So indoctrinated by false ideas of nationalism are such men, reason and discourse have no channel left through which to reach them. Much like the Matrix’s Agent Smith they have ceased to be autonomous actors. And that is terrifying.
More terrifying, perhaps, is that we are in the midst of a Presidential election where stupidity and xenophobic hate are being incited, encouraged, and lauded as virtuous. The hate-dimmed eyes— fixed so often above bodies poorly maintained—at Donald Trump’s rallies appear utterly immune to reason or rational discourse. How can a nation progress, even maintain, when the very notion of cause-and-effect; of empirical logic, is ignored and decried as elitist by so many? It is madness. And that this ignorance exists in such scale, in 2016, in a country that proclaims itself to be the leader of the free world, is embarrassing. That our national, corporately-owned media outlets are giving ample forum to such ignorance, and not to the one candidate exposing it, is Orwellian. Maybe American freedom depends on its citizen’s being, at least partially, ideologically imprisoned. Maybe my belief in the inherent, and now perhaps even further evolved, goodness of humanity is misplaced. Either way, I’ve never been more disappointed in my country. I thought we’d be better than this by now.
In the end, it was not me who answered the border guard, but my partner: “We’re solid free-market capitalists,” she replied. “Then stay as long as you like,” the guard said beckoning us back into the land of the free.