America was once a noble idea we sang about; now it's acreage and profit, and the songs mock us.
If America is more an idea than a place, we may have to come to grips with the fact that we don’t live in the “idea of America” any more.
It has, of course, happened before.
In the early 1800s Thomas Jefferson appointed Andrew Jackson (Trump’s favorite president) to wage war agains the Creek and Cherokee tribes in order to appropriate their land. Jackson recommended that his troops systematically kill Indian women and children after massacres in order to complete the extermination. Untold numbers died. The Creeks lost 23 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama, paving the way for cotton-plantation slavery. Jackson himself was a wealthy slave owner.
In 1864 the Central Pacific Railroad hired a crew of 21 Chinese workers to build the transcontinental railroad. A year later, a hundred more. The Chinese were systematically paid 30 to 50% less than their white American counterparts, this despite the common knowledge that the Chinese were better workers. In the 1870s, after the railroad was built, the American economy tanked; and seeking a scapegoat, mobs on the West Coast attacked Chinese communities, often killing the residents. In 1882 the federal government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented Chinese workers from entering the country. It was the first time this nation had restricted immigration, even though the number of Chinese workers in California and elsewhere was negligible.
In the early 1900s NINA signs proliferated: Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply. After WWII the sign was often modified in the South to read No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.
The Godfather series, the Sopranos, and countless other TV shows, movies, and books have enforced the stereotyping of Italians as aggressive and dishonest. Mobsters, pure and simple.
In one of the more abhorrent chapters in American history, President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 authorized the internment of well over 100,000 Japanese-Americans living in the U.S.
I have not even mentioned the Jim Crow laws of the past century, the tacit and omnipresent acceptance of anti-Semitism, the cynical and illegal Muslim ban, Trump’s assertion that Mexicans are murderers and rapists, the maltreatment of transgender citizens, the disparity in pay—and basic human rights!—between men and women, and on, and on.... And yet we insist on singling patriotic songs as if they somehow define us.
Sweet land of liberty?
Let freedom ring?
Crown thy good with brotherhood?
We are about to enter—some would say continue—another shameful era: the uprooting and removal of "million of illegal aliens" to Mexico and Central America—the president’s latest barbarous attempt to keep the vilest and most inhumane of his campaign promises. I.C.E. agents will play the villain's role, but Trump will be the moving force. There will come heart-wrenching stories that will embarrass us on the world stage and in our own souls. And through it all the president will continue to wear the flag on his lapel as if he fought for it, or as if he believed in it, or as if the idea of America means something to him.
It doesn’t. For a man devoid of ideas, America cannot be one. For a man devoid of ideas, America is acreage and profit—a place for white wealth and male dominance.
Yes, we have seen this before and fought our way out of it before. We have even, at times, given credence to the songs we sing about ourselves. But we cannot sing them now, not until there is some correlation between those lyrics and how we act in the nation of Trump...or until the nation of Trump become the idea of America again.