We celebrate Memorial Day to honor those who have died defending America; since the Revolutionary War it’s estimated that more than 1.1 million patriots have given their lives defending not just our borders, but also our sacred values and principles.
They gave their lives because they believed that all men are created equal; that the poor and huddled masses are entitled to be free.
They gave their lives because they believed in the aspirational visions of America — they believed in the American Dream.
Yet, in spite of the fact that protecting the Dream has come at such high cost, there are Americans who today preach the elevation of greed above justice, ego above love of nation, privilege and patriarchy above all — and the voices of those false prophets are resonating among many Americans during this election cycle.
For America to affirmatively move forward we need to recognize that many of our fellow citizens — those who’ve been quick to embrace unAmerican narratives of privilege and exclusion — view the world through a flawed prism of fear. The white patriarchal world in which they grew up, which empowered America to emerge victorious in two world wars (while ignoring the many societal and economic inequities at home), no longer exists either here or abroad, and that fact scares them.
It’s not just that many jobs and privileges have vanished, it’s that Marshal Matt Dillon retired and Mayberry vanished and an African American became president.
What many Americans fail to recognize is that their current pied piper — Donald Trump — is not an agent of change, but a potent, populist vehicle of resistance to change; a manifestation of a vestigial yearning for a Judeo-Christian, all-white nation populated by Donna Reed and Beaver Cleaver, and by others who knew their place.
Out of fear they’ve flocked to stadiums and gilded altars erected by false prophets, altars populated by false idols, blindly prepared to deny all that’s been sacrificed to build this great nation.
It’s an idolatry that believes that steel mills will someday return to Pittsburgh and shoe shops to Manchester.
It’s an idolatry built on blaming the Other for their losses.
It’s a fearful populace that’s susceptible to demagogues in most part because its members don’t know any better — and the elites and oligarchs exploiting their fears want it to stay that way.
That way, an uneducated populace can be susceptible to such delusions that our national defense is dependent on walls, waterboarding and drone strikes. That they think our security is somehow connected to “Homeland,” “24,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “American Sniper” — that unreconstructed demagogues can be saviors — is frightening.
I don’t believe the piper’s followers just think Washington is broken. I think they believe that the America that’s been taken from them still exists somewhere, and they want it back. They want Mayberry back, whatever the cost, even if it comes without health insurance, pensions, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights and access to competitive educational opportunities.
Part of that cost is that daily we witness increased displays of hatred and exclusion against vulnerable, disenfranchised Americans.
We witness George Zimmerman successfully auctioning the gun he used to kill unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
We witness a man aboard an aircraft rip off a Muslim woman’s head-scarf, yelling “Take it off. This is America.”
We witness attempts to sell the air rights above our hallowed Public Square to the highest bidder. We witness that many Americans are silent as indignities are heaped upon the weak and vulnerable.
I despair, too, that out of fear and ignorance there’re too many Americans who read, remember and regurgitate only those opinions which they don’t have to weigh and consider; who obsessively select only those items which confirm their biases; who reject anything that challenges their understanding of what America is and should be, even if it means denying 240 years of the sacrifices of patriots.
We know patriots don’t worship false idols; they embrace truth, education, justice, equality and hospitality. They reject oppression and rise up in support of the marginalized, the weak, the impoverished. They reject the nativists, xenophobes, racists, anti-Semites, Islamaphobes and white supremacists.
They reject the politics of fear.
This weekend, too, I believe there is also hope. It lies with our young — younger Americans free of fear, free of the prejudices of their ancestors; the young who struggle for equity and rights for all, who embrace reason and dialogue.
It is the young who embrace secular and sacred, who acknowledge differences in sexuality and gender, who want to save the globe from the depredations of the elites and oligarchs.
The young who have hope.
The young who intuitively know this Memorial Day that we best honor America by not succumbing to fear and ignorance — that we best honor America by honoring justice and equality for all.