“What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.” —Rush Limbaugh, February 2012, discussing birth control
“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that–they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” —Rep. Steve King, July 2013, discussing immigration reform
“93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here. What about the poor black child that is killed by the other black child? Why aren’t you protesting that? We are talking about the significant exception. I’d like to see the attention paid to that, that you are paying to this.” —Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, November 2014, discussing Ferguson and Michael Brown
“We have not been telling our story very well. We do have a great story. We are not perfect by any means, but we have a great story about human freedom, human rights, human opportunity. And let’s get back to telling it — to ourselves first and foremost — and believing it about ourselves and then taking that around the world. That’s what we should be standing for.” —Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, July 2014, discussing what it means to be an American.
A recent moment, an interview on The Daily Show, was particularly poignant to me. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was the guest, and Jon Stewart asked him about his issues with Beyoncé. The Governor recognizes Beyoncé as a role model to young girls, but likened the pop star to a stripper, something Stewart called “truly outrageous.” He then played a clip from Huckabee’s own FOX News show where Ted Nugent played “Cat Scratch Fever,” a song loaded with sexual let’s-call-them-lyrics.
Huckabee didn’t see a problem with Nugent singing this song on a news show – then or now –
something Stewart rationalizes to familiarity and political reasoning.
“You excuse that type of crudeness because you agree with his stance on firearms. You don’t approve of Beyoncé because she seems alien to you,” Stewart said.
The thought process this conversation brings up has existed in this country for quite some time but has been frequently condoned. It’s a sort of strange cognitive dissonance rooted in the McCarthy-era Cold War and blossoming sometime after 9/11. It’s a weird thought process that fits right at home with the great ironies of fiction, since at a certain point that is all that history becomes: a story told to the present and future in order to escape the mistakes of ancestors.
Us vs. Them doesn’t cover it, because that would be short-changing the ideal. Us vs. Them is the tree term, while many branches of Us vs. Them holds the entire thing up and stabilizes it.
It is easy to talk about our story. In fact, it is wonderful. Not the big moments, either—1776, Normandy—the events that make for the climactic scene in the movie. It is even better to talk about the smaller memories, the kind the President tosses out at the State of the Union to emphasize a need for a policy change. The kind to remind us that we, as Americans, are still the underdogs, the ones who weren’t supposed to defeat England.
And that is sort of true, and sort of not. Because here comes the cognitive dissonance—not the main one, but one of the branches: if we’re the scrappy underdogs, then how are we the greatest number 1 nation God Himself has ever produced? If we were never supposed to be here, how come our military is larger than the next 8 countries combined?
It breaks down under scrutiny, this thought process, as most things do when you look at them for too long, like a Picasso painting. It’s easier to not think, better even, because when you don’t think, you’re also not responsible for the consequences of someone who does think.
But it is sort of true, only if you swing to another branch. Because the thing that made America the nation of underdogs is still happening—immigration for one, injustice another. The only difference is, everything is the same: Help Wanted—No Irish Need Apply has evolved into putting up an electric fence.
It is true if you consider being a woman in the modern day. The two genders, of course, are equal, now more than ever. And that fact makes it much more frustrating when, in the court of public opinion, women seemingly can’t be trusted. Sandra Fluke is a hussy; remember when Bill Cosby made us laugh?
And it is especially true when considering the plight of African-Americans today, particularly when you consider the year of 2014. It wasn’t so much that cops killed Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and so many others, because that’s a tale as old as time. It is how it happened, and the fact they got away with it. Every case that made national news struck such a chord because of some twisted form of nostalgia: they were all right out of the Klan’s playbook, right down to the part where the white guy got away.
The original concept for this article was “American caste system,” not “American Story,” but I think, should you try to draw a Venn Diagram comparing the two, you would need to just draw a
singular circle. Because the story of America gives way to the caste system, a caste system that is different from the traditional one that exists in India.
Because the backing of the American caste system and the American Story is one and the same: the philosophy of Us vs. Them, and a weird paralyzing fear that they can have this, and you can have that, but neither of you can have a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It just will not work, because we are Us and they are Them, and where in the United States of America does it say we should come together?
There is blame on both sides for this divide. On the one side, you have the genesis of this cognitive dissonance, the irrational fear that someone is taking the country away from us. On the other side, there are the idealists who believe that America can go back to where it was.
But that’s the thing with evolution—there is no going back once it changes. And the changes are pronounced and dramatic, indeed.
The role of the underdog has changed. Well, let me rephrase. The role of the public underdogs have changed. Before, America was the underdog, and the scrappy do-gooder was white men achieving the American Dream. It is said to be a simpler time, so it only makes sense that our dreams would be simpler.
Now? Women are the underdogs. So are illegal immigrants, and legal ones, too. Not to mention the LGBTQQIAAP community, as well as the black community. The difference is, all of these groups are coming to the forefront now, demanding basic human rights and equality, leaving traditional underdog America scrambling for a new role.
One way traditional underdog America is dealing with this now is reverting to an old trick: delaying, wondering why now, when [insert here] is going on. And we can’t forget about [insert here], too! [Insert here] is really important, now that we think of it!
And the response is the same as always: it is time. On top of this article is a quote from Hillary Clinton, who talks about an American story that needs to be re-told. For my liking, it is on the idealist end of the spectrum, but that is fine, because it illustrates the next stage of America, even if it misses the point.
See, the point Clinton was trying to make is this: as a country, we need to get back to what made us great in the first place. We need to dig down deep and get back to our roots. But the thing is, that is impossible. It won’t happen—like that. It will happen with the next group of underdogs. All of them—women, blacks, immigrants, gays—they all have a story to tell, a story that is not written yet. Their lives exist as an empty page, waiting for a riveting tale to be told and change everything. This isn’t to suggest that traditional underdog America should pack up and leave; this is to tell them to share the stage, especially if all the world is one. This is to suggest that America in its present form is over, and has been for quite some time; it is for the best. This is to say that the tree—the Us vs. Them tree—needs to be cut down, excised from existence, and forgotten to history, remembered only as a lesson of what not to do, of how not to proceed, of the promises America made but couldn’t keep, but will someday, and someday very soon.