Musings of Mariani

Fire alarms go off at odd times in the Willets dormitory, where I sleep and clean myself and occasionally work and socialize. Late one night near the end of the last semester, the alarm sounded, and we all filed out. It was a forlorn period, when the sinking, impending reality of Trump’s election and the travails of finals seemed to be conspiring together to produce the maximum feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. The residents of Willets filed out in their pajamas and stood together outside the doors. But instead of annoyance, a feeling of cheerful bemusement and calm resignation seemed to pervade. One girl walked out of the door with a lit cigarette and a mischievous smile as if she had set the alarm off herself, and was proud of it. We all knew that that the alarm would be deactivated soon, that in the meantime we could commiserate with our friends, and that this nocturnal excursion would make our beds all the warmer and cozier when we returned.
America is like Willets: beloved by a bacchanalian few who make it nearly unlivable for the rest, the site of many recurring crimes and infamies and injustices which go unaddressed and unresolved.
Like I live in Willets, I live in America and despite its flaws I love it deeply and I feel very dedicated to it. This is obviously a very bad time for our country, or at least worse than usual, but I’m not sure if it’s unprecedented. The government has often been corrupt. We’ve had incompetent, disturbed leaders before (Nixon, Reagan, W. Bush, Andrew Jackson, to name a few), and the immediate problems facing us have seemed intractable and hopeless. Our nation has been more divided before (we had a civil war!), we’ve had a worse economic crisis (the Great Depression!), we’ve faced extremely grave internal injustices whose solutions seemed totally out of reach.
I think what is different about the crisis we face today is the widespread total hopelessness felt about the impossibility to solve any of the problems facing us. I do not think this lies solely in our traditional national values, institutions, and ideals failing to solve the problems we face and the systemic flaws they have. The radical alternatives offered seem to me to be equally unlikely, insufficient, and futile.
This point is trite and obvious, but I still want to make it because I feel that it continues to be overlooked by many. I think that at least part of reason the political problems in the United States seem so intractable is because no one examines the basis of their fundamental values. People constantly talk about the responsibilities we have to other people in our country and then simultaneously question the legitimacy of our country itself. Or, like Trump, they talk about protecting our country without examining how the fundamental nature of the country they are protecting precludes doing the types of things they want to do to defend it.
Even in the era of globalization, the political institution which connects us the most is the nation-state. If you state that the United States of America is a hopelessly flawed country in which revolutionary changes need to take place, then you can no longer appeal to American values or the responsibilities Americans have to each other because of our national history, because then you are only contributing to the continuation of something which you say should not exist. If you say America needs to protect itself and in its interests in the world, but that to do so entails violating one of the country’s core principles of religious freedom, then you go further and actually destroy the thing you are trying to defend. You make the defense of America the thing that destroys America, you eliminate any value there is in defending America.
I do not want to make this sound like a Fourth of July speech. I do not forget that the crimes of slavery and the genocide of the natives peoples of this continent are as foundational to this country, and in many ways more-so, then the Bill of Rights. I know that is impossible for me to understand how difficult it is for many people to simply exist day to day in this country. But as long as a great deal of the American radical left totally eschews patriotism or even vaguely patriotic rhetoric, then I do not see how it is going to get anywhere in national politics. How are we going to criticize Trump for silencing the media or the continuing Republican efforts to take away the right of low-income people and people of color’s right to vote unless we appeal to the Constitution? How can we appeal to the Constitution unless we espouse some sort of dedication to the American national project?
The Democratic party is deeply flawed and has an awful policy record in many areas, but at a certain point the disengagement from the party stemming from the belief that it is hopeless to attempt to improve it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, almost got the nomination. I feel that if the left had made greater attempts at consensus and coalition building, he could have won. This would not have solved all of our national problems, but it certainly would have put us on a fundamentally better path.
What is indisputable is that everyone, especially people like myself who have tremendous privilege in our society, needs to do more to engage politically. Trump is the personification of the worst aspects of this country, but I believe, perhaps foolishly and romantically, but sincerely, that the good aspects of this country can defeat him and what he represents.

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