The following essay was written to inspire the amazing artists and authors who submitted and those who became a part of Issue 4.1 American Identity. The most fascinating reminder here at Sisyphus is that the challenges we face as Americans today are not new, but only different, part of our collective identity because they are part of our history. Yes, there are new threats to civil liberties and rights. We the People will have to fight for equality and justice going forward. But part of our national identity is both embracing change and rising up for justice. There is no denying that America has problems, but we have come so very, very far.
Pay attention. Today is the day, America. It is time to heal and galvanize and fight. Stand up for the downtrodden, speak up for the voiceless, be articulate and smart, wickedly educated, steadfastly united, and fiscally shrewd.
Now is the time to say that We the People refuse to be further politically maneuvered. Since the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup of oil-rich Iran and the covert acts “of U.S. foreign policy” that followed, America has been for sale to the highest bidding corporations for decades. Doctors of history and economy and demographics know the players and the game and tell us about it repeatedly. Now we know. We should never let that happen again. Well, except in Cuba, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Like a mark in a shell game, We the People let ourselves be distracted by reality TV and he said/she said Oval Office shenanigans. We let the apprentices of 1950-60s CIA shadow wars—the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld trifecta—pull a disappearing act with the 2000/2004 United States’ Presidency and any chance of effective ecological legislation. Oops.
In 2008, we democratically elect a President—a senatorial Constitutional lawyer, an honest exemplary family man who inspires international respect—and let Congressional bullies engage in a playground/Senate-floor game of keep-away with the nation’s legislation for eight years. We the People say nothing, allow our elected official to wrangle legislation by Executive order. When those same Senators and Congressmen refuse to do the job for which they are elected—namely, to vote on the citizens’ behalf—they are not fired, fined, or even reprimanded. We’ve lost interest. Supreme Court? Instead, we binge-watch surgically-enhanced, Murdoch-financed extravagance on Netflix, distracted while unions erode from representing 56% of American workers to 9% and the commercials are talking about the gig economy and health care is a problem. Huh?
The sanctimonious DNC not only didn’t Feel the Bern, but dismissed as fringe a vast, aghast army who stood not only for the President (as the Committee perceived), but against the elected who did not vote their constituency and respect the rights and responsibilities of office. While the pundits were distracted by the Fox News/MSNBC ping-pong game rhetoric and the unprecedented indignity of a reality-TV presidential campaign between a xenophobic misogynist and a vilified woman, Citizen’s United was watching. The down-ticket races were quiet battlegrounds, gerrymandered, outspent by billions, and lightly-challenged. We the People stood with the world, stunned and dumbfounded, reeling in disbelief. A sweep of three houses. A promised dismantling of decades-long, grassroots campaigns supporting equality, ecological, and civil rights. Tsk.
We the People no longer have the luxury of the five stages of grief—disbelief and anger are all we can afford. There is no time to bargain with trickle-down economics. There is no time for the depression over the 3% of climate-deniers left on the planet having newly-minted positions in the Trump cabinet, poised to determine the legislation of the world’s most irresponsible ecological legacy. There is no time for the resignation that the political machine is moneyed, convoluted, and incomprehensible. In the rallying words of Stan the Homeless Man, “If I can look up, I can get up.” So get back up. And look around.
The “Stop Trump” faction was rioting in the streets, bashing corporate interests and local businesses alike. The alt-right was using the distraction to bait-and-switch America’s economic dysfunction with a supremacist agenda. A lot of people are terrified by the vitriol spewing from American mouths. Others feel justified at the exposure of resentments. See? Republican vs. Democrat, Woman vs. Man, Christian vs. Muslim, Blue vs. Black, Capitalist vs. Socialist, Winners vs. Whiners, Us vs. Them. It’s a class war! It’s a race war! Except it’s not. Not entirely.
It’s an eighteen-month propaganda campaign that stoked traditional resentments to accomplish its goal: a divide and conquer smokescreen. Exorbitant amounts of corporate money then poured into ballot races unchallenged. Overturn Citizens United barely passed in California. Despite the megalomaniacal chest-pounding of the alt-right, electing Trump was probably more of a Michael Moore f-bomb to political cronyism; an impotent, pre-pubescent, frustrated door slam in the face of a calcified status quo.
“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us—women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths, particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault,” say the Women’s March on Washington organizers. Who’s left? That’s right.
If there is one thing that the Trump election has done, it is to clearly frame the discussion, to personify the intangible. We the People have spoken and we have the result. It is now it is up to each of us, individually, to take the responsibility: to educate and be educated, to inform and be informed, and to make sure that our elected officials—whoever they are—represent the agendas of their constituency faithfully. And to resist distraction and never stop.
Now is the time to deny that Columbus discovered anything but a fortune, that Manifest Destiny justified entitlement, that the United States should only represent certain populations for their personal economic gain, that women and marginalized don’t matter. The United States represents all of us—immigrants from every continent in the world (who should have been gracious rather than genocidal to our/their hosts). We all matter: civically, socially, and fiscally. Fertility rates in the United States have been declining since 1975 and immigration is the key to the population growth and, by extension, the GDP matrices.
So get up! If you are a lifelong community supporter, dust yourself off. If you are shocked to attention, connect. Today is the day. If you don’t know who they are, find out the names of your Congressmen and Senators and tell them what you want. Robert Reich offers a few suggestions for navigating the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency. Don’t have time? Start donating money to projects you care about: ecology, free press, poverty, civil rights, public art. Scrutinize Facebook “news” gingerly and judiciously. No time or money? Economic boycotts are remarkably effective—if few people buy a product, it will disappear from the market.
Be a valuable citizen: learn about economy, law, real estate. You can’t win the game if you don’t know the rules.
In California, one vote influenced hundreds of thousands of dollars of legislation. In a swing state, the value of one vote was millions of dollars. Now is the time to be thankful that the United States represents millions and millions of divergent voices. Speak out. Be heard. Start now. Keep going.