By Djelloul Marbrook
Something more than misconduct
Politics 24/7 may be costing us our most precious resource, our hybrid vigor, our historic talent for turning the difficulties of diversity into a famously high-energy culture. By playing the race card in all its mean iterations the Republican Party has stoked our ethnic campfires, aggravated our differences, and scared us out of our unprecedented confidence in our country’s monumental experiment.
Politics 24/7 tears at the fabric of society, unnerving it, fraying its various threads, playing on its fears. Just as the human body cannot survive a steady diet of amphetamines, uppers, I suspect the body politic cannot survive this unremitting politicization of everything under the sun.
Underlying this phenomenon is the tawdriest of secrets-the media simply don’t want to invest the money that real inquiry, relentless investigative reporting, would require. So they substitute it with mean-spirited he-said, she-said fake news relieved only by trivia. They over-dramatize the latest development, whether it’s the weather or the national debt. When everything is momentous, nothing is.
When the media hourly say, Wait til you hear this, deafness ensues. And that is why the media increasingly sound like the politicians; they have nothing to say but are perfectly willing to tear up our social contract to say it. My stepfather, born in Sicily, would have required resuscitation if I had married an Irish girl, so bitter were his resentments towards the Irish. But only a generation later Sicilian-Irish unions were commonplace, Italians had ascended to high places in all walks of life, just as had the Irish before them.
To hornswoggle us back into our roots may be politically convenient, but it is despicable in light of our history. It dilutes our celebrated penchant for accommodating each other, a penchant acquired in blood and strife, and therefore all the more precious. It signifies a wilfull disrespect of history in an obscene lust to feed at the corporate trough. For example, our many Franco-American families, usually bearing recognizable French names, are rarely purely French. They are more likely to represent bloodlines deriving from intermarriage with Native American tribes.
Many of the proudest Dutch names in New York and Pennsylvania represent an assimilation process in which men of many ethnic origins married Dutch women and adopted Dutch names because they were then more acceptable than their own. We are a hybrid nation, the reason Adolph Hitler called us mongrels, only to suffer the savage bite of the mongrel Americans. We have and have had bitter ethnic differences. Some of them were at the heart of our murderous civil war. But we have also had an ability to assimilate, to draw the best from newcomers, and to renew ourselves by so doing.
Our boundless curiosity, which led to advances in science and industry, bound us to each other, even when our inherited differences seemed insurmountable. The greater the challenge the more we drew upon each other. All of that could be pulled apart by the reckless politics of division and stonewalling served by a media all too content with our degraded yip-yap state of discourse.
The disgrace that is Congress today is analogous to a great metropolis in which a large number of drivers decide they will no longer abide by the rules. They will flip the bird whenever they feel like it, cut off other drivers, never give an inch, shout insults, and flout lights and signs. In short, they will tear up the contract by which we agree to play fair, and to hell with the consequences of their tantrums.
While I have listened to right-wing politicians yammer about Latin American immigrants not assimilating, I have watched a young Hispanic from Bolivia in my neighborhood in New York City rise from shoeshine “boy” to co-owner of the shoe repair shop. I have heard his faltering Spanglish evolve into four-syllable English, and I have delighted in his trying out big words on me. My personal witness, like that of many upstate New York farmers who need and respect their immigrant laborers, flies in the face of political deceit.
The lies politicians are telling about immigration and about our differences are threatening this hybrid vigor, this magnificent ability to renew ourselves in every generation. If small-town and big-city America operated day to day the way our self-seeking and bribed Congressmen have been behaving, our society would crumble under our noses. I must accommodate the Republicans who dominate my upstate county.
I must respectfully hear them out and even vote for them when I believe they have better ideas and better candidates than my own party. I cannot and will not behave towards them as the Tea Party and its reckless allies have behaved toward the office of the presidency. I will behave decently and respectfully, and I will compromise, not only because I believe it is moral so to do, but because I believe it is the only way to continue the work of our forefathers and to honor their sacrifices.
These political opportunists who rile up our differences and stonewall their adversaries are spitting on the offices to which their adversaries are elected, and therefore they are spitting on us, because politicians hold office for us. Their offices belong to us. “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom,” said the French author Marcel Proust. Do our politicians make us happy? Do they make us grateful? We know in our hearts that it would be disastrous to behave the way they do, and yet we vote for these disgraceful fools.
We want to see a Congress that produces something other than foul-smelling propaganda. We want government to work. We elected Barack Obama. Maybe we will and maybe we won’t re-elect him, but we want government to work, to solve problems. And we know damned well that we could not possibly conduct our personal lives the way politicians are conducting our public affairs-our being the operative word, not theirs. No, we don’t always agree on the war, on debt, on don’t ask/don’t tell, on defense, on jobs, on the banks, but we enjoy an immense, overriding consensus: we want our country to be happy, to be prosperous, and to be decent.
If getting elected means to politicians that they have license to ignore this, they are by definition unfit for any office. We didn’t send them to Washington get fat, to dine out, to badmouth any of us; we sent them to hammer out agreements that will improve our lives.
We enjoy a consensus on the fundamental American ideals, and too many of our politicians are sabotaging that consensus for their own short-term gain. I’d call this something more than misconduct, something very akin to treason. We want a win-win society, but our politicians want a win-lose society in which the few and the privileged win and the rest of us scramble for crumbs.
Djelloul Marbrook’s first book, Far from Algiers (Kent State University Press, 2008) won the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and the 2010 International Book Award in poetry. “Artists’ Hill,” an excerpt from his unpublished novel, Crowds of One, won the 2008 Literal Latte first prize in fiction. Artemisia’s Wolf, a novella, was published by Prakash Books of India early in 2011.
Alice Miller’s Room, a novella, was published in 1999 by OnlineOriginals.com (UK) as an e-book, and Bliss Plot Press of Woodstock, NY, recently published his novella, Saraceno, as an e-book. Orbis (UK), Smashwords.com, Potomac Review (Maryland) and Prima Materia (New York). His second book of poems is Brushstrokes and Glances (Deerbrook Editions, 2010).
Recent poems were published by American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Oberon, Meadowland Review, The Same, Reed, The Ledge, Poemeleon, Poets Against War, Fledgling Rag, Daylight Burglary, Le Zaporogue, Atticus, Long Island Quarterly, ReDactions, Istanbul Literary Review, Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review, Damazine, Perpetuum Mobile, Attic, and Chronogram. A retired newspaper editor and Navy veteran, he lives in Germantown, NY, with his wife Marilyn, and has lifelong ties to Woodstock.
Del’s book, Far From Algiers.