The Worship of America

Disclaimer: Controversial Opinions is a series in which I’m essentially thinking out loud. I don’t think every one of my opinions is right, and I’m open to changing my mind when shown a new perspective. If any of this starts feeling like a manifesto, I assure you my intention is just to get my thoughts out and off my chest. You’re welcome to agree or disagree, I’m doing this for myself as much as anything, but I do hope you get something out of reading this.

Even though I think religion itself, particularly Christianity, is to blame for the majority of the world’s problems throughout history, it seems to me that there is a religioun in America that often goes unnoticed: the worship of America itself. Nationalism has become an American religion. Growing up in America, I have always been very disturbed by the way Americans treat this particular country and especially it’s symbols.

As a child I was taught to stand at my desk every morning before school, place my hand over my heart, and recite a cult-like chant in which I pledge allegiance to, of all things, the American flag. Even as a child, I was struck by the Orwellian nature of this, though I didn’t know how to express it at the time. The flag is a symbol of America, but it is so revered that it is treated as a religious object, the same way certain icons are in temples and churches. If you didn’t know, there are a set of rules about what you should and should not do with a flag, which are often taught in places like the Boy Scouts. I don’t know all of them, but I have absorbed a few of them from cultural osmosis, and I do know you are never supposed to let it touch the ground and you are not supposed to wear a flag as clothing, or hang it upside down.

What’s even creepier than the fact that children are expected to essentially recite a prayer each morning to the religious icon of the American flag is the droning uninterested monotone with which an entire school does so. As I stood in class reciting the pledge of allegiance, hundreds of other students did it at the same time within my school, and within my state and country there were millions of children, all droning out the monotonous prayer at once, not really concerned with the meaning of the words. Most first graders don’t really know what the word “indivisible” means, but because we have this chant drilled into our heads from our youngest age, we are psychologically prepared to accept the words of the pledge as gospel truth when we are old enough to understand them. It doesn’t occur to use to question it because we were indoctrinated, just like we were with religion.

Indoctrination occurs everywhere. The most popular video games in America are almost entirely shooting games, specifically war games, and even more specifically a lot of those war games are set directly in the middle east, priming young people, mostly boys, to view killing middle eastern people as sport, not to regard them as human. Is it any wonder then, that non-white people and particularly middle eastern people are treated with such racism in America, or automatically assumed to be terrorists?

The national anthem is equally creepy to me. I know that every country has a national anthem, but the way you are instantly ostracized for refusing to stand for the anthem or refusing to say the pledge is terrifying. I tried on a couple of occasions as a child to abstain from saying the pledge of allegiance (think about that, for a moment, the weight of that: CHILDREN RECITE A PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. That is third world dictator type shit), and I was reprimanded by teachers and given looks of confusion by other students.

There’s also an attitude in America that we are the best country in the world. And I mean that literally. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “America is the greatest country in the world.” But WHY is it great? If you ask most people they’ll give you some platitude about “freedom,” as though we’re the only country in the world with a bill of human rights in our constitution. The vast majority of industrialized countries in the world have the same personal freedoms Americans do, but Americans don’t consider that. As a child, I was told by my mother that in China, no one is allowed to have their own personal property, and people have to stand in line in bathrooms to receive their share of toilet paper. I was told that America is essentially a utopia where people from all over the world come to to escape persecution and share in our freedoms.

That is, of course, bullshit. America ranks incredibly low on a lot of factors that we consider to be marks of a great place to live. We have terrible education scores, we are almost single-handedly destroying the planet, we contain an incredibly small amount of the world’s population and use a larger share of it’s resources than any other country.

The thing that has always confused me about America’s place in the world is HOW it’s allowed to get away with all the things it does. With contributing to climate change, with affecting the environment, with not allowing people to have the same personal freedoms (such as marriage equality or voting equality) that other countries enjoy.

I think about it like this: imagine a house full of people, and this house represents the world, and the people represent countries. If one person in the house is sitting in the corner starting a fire that’s going to spread and burn down the rest of the house, isn’t it the responsibility of all the other people to step in and stop the fire, or stop that person from lighting a fire? Sure, he could say “this is my corner of the house, I’m allowed to do what I like here,” but he shouldn’t have the ability to do something that can endanger the safety of everyone else in the house. So why is America allowed to run rampant and unchecked like a bull in a China shop? Why do all the other countries in the world not sit down and say “Look, America, we can’t let you destroy our planet. Destroy your own country if you want to, but once you’re affecting the rest of us, we have to put a stop to it.” How is America allowed to do what it does?

I know that there is more nuance to all of these things, I do. What I’m doing here is essentially thinking out loud, I’m shouting questions into the void and hoping someone will hear them and consider them. I’ve wanted to do a series about some of my controversial opinions for a while now, and I hope to continue doing these. I know it’s essentially just me ranting, but I like ranting, and I think ranting is useful. My opinions are not set in stone, they’re open to change when new information is presented to me, and I’m open to admitting I’m wrong, but I hope that someone will see the sense in some of what I’m saying.

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All Points Of View Are Not Equally Valid

Disclaimer: Controversial Opinions is a series in which I’m essentially thinking out loud. I don’t think every one of my opinions is right, and I’m open to changing my mind when shown a new perspective. If any of this starts feeling like a manifesto, I assure you my intention is just to get my thoughts out and off my chest. You’re welcome to agree or disagree, I’m doing this for myself as much as anything, but I do hope you get something out of reading this.

I’ve had enough of this notion that “liberal” and “conservative” are equally valid points of you. This is a false equivalency. They are not equally valid. In our culture, “conservative” has essentially become a code word for “racist, sexist, homophobic,” or generally just bigoted. Think about it, any time you see someone attacking the rights of gay people, black people, or attempting to impose religious rule on others, it’s ALWAYS a conservative who’s doing it for their “conservative values.”

One thing that really bothers me is when we don’t take people at their word when it comes to what they believe. We should believe what the vast majority of conservatives have to say about their values. Conservative values are the values of bigotry and religious oppression. Liberal values are the idea that people deserve equality, life, healthcare, bodily autonomy, the ability to love whoever they choose and build families in any way they see fit. In other words, liberal values are exactly the values the country was founded on, the idea of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any rose-tinted views of the American founding fathers as enlightened progressive pacifists. They did after all fight in a revolution and, no matter how progressive they may have been at the time, they were likely all abominable racists. Even the ones who didn’t have slaves didn’t consider black people equal to white people, or women equal to men. So don’t mistake me as saying that liberal values are the values of the founding fathers. People idolize the founding fathers too much and in America they are essentially worshiped as gods, but that’s another topic and we’ll get to that in a moment.

Even though making a blanket statement about all liberals or all conservatives is bound to be wrong in some instances, the fact remains that the vast majority of people who believe in equality and freedom for all races, genders, and sexual orientations, are and have always been, liberal. And the people who oppose progress, the people who chant racial slurs, the people who protest a black girl going to a white school or want to keep water fountains segregated or try to pass legislation banning transgender people from using the bathroom, are always conservative. Conservatives are always on the wrong side of history and liberals are on the right side of it.

Don’t mistake me as thinking liberals are perfect. One of the reasons I admire Bill Maher so much is that he calls out liberals on their bullshit. I think that liberals have gotten a lot of things wrong about the way we view culture and it’s appropriation, and policing the way people are allowed to express themselves, but in general, being liberal is being decent, and being conservative is being bigoted. So I’m tired of hearing people say they’re a conservative as though that’s a decent and worthwhile thing to be. When someone says they’re a conservative, it’s most likely a very nice way of saying they’re racist, or they’re homophobic, or they’re transphobic, or they’re in some way opposed to equality.

 

In Defense Of Kathy Griffin

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I will make this brief.

After everything that Kathy Griffin has done for us, we better not turn our back on her now. I haven’t said much about it because mostly I was so pissed off at the response of right-wing commentators. And then of course all the people dragging out such old chestnuts as “ugh that ugly cunt isn’t funny fuck her,” or some other such brilliant and scathing insight. You can bet your ass that if the shoe had been on the other foot, and Alex Jones were holding up a decapitated Hillary Clinton head, right wing commentators wouldn’t be tripping over their dicks to call him out on it.

What pisses me off most is seeing Kathy’s friends turn on her. Anderson Cooper saying he thought the photos were disturbing and awful, when he’s actually a friend of hers. Is he trying to put a nail in the coffin and destroy her? Or is he just saying that because he doesn’t want to risk his position at CNN?

Look, I get it. Holding up a severed head in a time where ISIS exists, it’s a bold statement. It’s disturbing. It’s maybe even a little tasteless. But art is SUPPOSED to be bold and disturbing. The message of Kathy holding up a severed Trump head is not “Hey guys, let’s go out and decapitate politicians,” it’s “We will overcome this, we will defeat this demagogue and we will resist.”

But you know what I admire even more than Kathy having the balls to make a bold statement? The fact that she apologized. Kathy has an infamous no apology policy. She stands by what she says. But after seeing the way it affected everyone, she owned it, and she apologized. And honestly, the worst I can say about the photo is that it’s in bad taste. But it’s certainly not “vile and offensive.” What’s vile and offensive is that we elected a man who openly brags about sexual assault.

What if we just called the Kathy Griffin photos “locker room talk”? Would that make it acceptable.

Trump is trying to make himself a demagogue and we need people to send out a message that we aren’t gonna take that shit. And we need it from all angles. We need the protests in the streets, and we need celebrities holding up bloody heads if that’s what they want to do.

The only thing that I’ve found truly unsettling was watching Kathy try and hold it together for her apology video. She seems like she’s been crying, and she sounds terrified. Like she’s afraid her whole career could be over. And it might. And that horrifies me.

Kathy is a fucking inspiration and the hardest working woman in show business. She made art. Art sometimes includes bold statements like holding up a fake bloody head. And unlike the racists who burned/hanged effigies of Barack Obama during his presidency (strangely no right wing media seemed to condemn THAT when it was happening), she isn’t targeting Trump because of his race or his gender or anything like that. He’s being judged based on the content of his shitty character. Need I remind you that there are actual photos of the Trump kids posing with dead animals they trophy hunted? How about the photo of Eric (I think it’s Eric, I can’t tell these assholes apart) holding up an elephants tail in one hand and a knife in the other? Here, have a look.

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Now tell me, is that more or less disturbing than Kathy holding up a bloody Trump mask? Because that’s a guy who actually killed a living creature for sport and posed with a piece of it’s body.

I know, I’m criticizing one of the Trump spawn, not the orange wonder himself. So let me get back to that.

The pussy grabber in chief wants to get the heat off his ass for his recent worldwide trip in which he alienated a staggering number of US allies, continued to deny the existence of climate change, and turned America into the laughing stock of the entire world. Now he’s pulling us out of the Paris climate agreement, which I remind you even genuine evil dictators like Kim Jong Un still participate in. That’s right, Kim Jong Un is more environmentally responsible than Donald Trump.

So, Donald Trump blasted back by dragging his eleven year old son Baron into it, saying that his son was disturbed by it. REALLY? You’re only just NOW worrying about the welfare of your son and what your narcissistic trainwreck of a presidency is doing to him? I’m not buying it, buddy. Trump is using Kathy as a scapegoat to try and get bad press off of him, and when that didn’t work he invented a new internet meme, because the Trump version of doing something good is creating a scandal that DOESN’T involve directly harming other people.

So hey, hand me a bloody Trump mask. I’ll hold it up for you, Kathy. I’m not above rash and over-the-top demonstrations. Kathy said it best: she’s a comedian, she crosses the line, she moves the line and crosses it again. It doesn’t always land. She owned up to it, and she apologized, not because she thinks that her willingness to speak out is wrong, but because she saw that it was genuinely disturbing to people and it crossed a line for a lot of people. She apologized because she’s watching her career crumble around her and that isn’t fair, not after everything she’s done.

Donald Trump is causing real harm to real people, and making a statement is both allowed and acceptable. Last I checked, despite Donald Trump’s best efforts we still have freedom of speech, and that includes bloody performance art. And don’t give me this crap about how “unsettling and vile” that picture is. We live in a culture that goes to the movies to see torture porn for fun, but suddenly you want to act shocked and clutch your pearls because a comedian makes a statement with a mask covered in fake blood? Like I said, if anything the photo was in bad taste, but it isn’t vile, it isn’t disgusting. It’s an artist making art.

Kathy Griffin does not deserve this, after everything she’s done for Americans, for the gay community, for women in comedy, for comedy in general, and especially for veterans and soldiers. Kathy Griffin has devoted significant amounts of her time, money and energy to soldiers, she’s included soldiers in her stand up tours, in her television shows, in her comedy specials, and done countless benefits for them. She’s been an outspoken activist for gay people, she’s gone canvasing door to door for the LGBT community, she’s organized marches against homophobic policies, and she’s never stopped opening up her damn mouth to defend people who need defending every chance she gets. Even though she crosses the line, she’s doing it for a reason, she’s making an important statement, and even her apology was sincere and heartfelt.

Kathy Griffin has more courage in the little finger gripping that bloody Trump mask than Donald Trump will ever know or understand. Trump is a disgrace to America and to the world, and while he was tweeting on his golden toilet in a building with his name plastered on it, creating racist birther conspiracies, Kathy Griffin was on several USO tours, staying in a hotel that was almost bombed, and flying into a warzone in Kandahar, Afghanistan to entertain US troops, because she’s a fucking American.

What we need now is the courage to stand up to demagogues, to challenge them, to not give them an inch, and yes, to even hold up a severed head every now and then if that’s what it takes to get the message across that tyranny doesn’t have a place here. I stand with Kathy, I support her, I love her, and I’m not turning my back on her because she did what she does, and what she will continue to do, which is to cross the line, move it, and cross it again. That’s what artists are here for.

Do Not Go Quietly

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We failed. Capitalism failed, America failed, hope failed, education failed, reason failed. I wish I could be optimistic and tell you that this won’t be the end of us, and I don’t think it will be the complete end. But if you want to know what I truly feel:

For the first time in my life I am terrified for my future. I’m afraid of the country I live in, I’m afraid of its leaders, I’m afraid of its policies, I’m afraid of its people, I’m afraid of its ideas, and I’m afraid of its structure. I do not know what the future holds, but truthfully I see a hurricane on its way, and when we had the power to prevent the hurricane or escape from it, we chose to do nothing, and now as a nation, we will face the consequences.

Donald Trump is a caricature of the wqy the rest of the world sees America, of the way minorities see people in power. He represents literally everything wrong in our system, twisted in our national consciousness. He is like a ghost of our past that haunts us with the bigotry, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and transparent sociopathic false politeness. He is the personified grown man infant, and he is now one of the most powerful human beings on the planet.

America does not belong to Donald Trump. He is not a king. But he THINKS he is. And that will make all the difference. The time for playing nice with Donald Trump was over long ago, but now it’s time to fight this bully and expose the coward he is. The rapist. The mogul who values money over life. The spoiled rich brat who started his career with a million dollars of his daddy’s money. The illiterate author who hasn’t written a single one of his books.

I am afraid for the future, and I’m afraid of America. But we must not be afraid of Donald Trump. I’ve said this from the beginning: he only has power if you BELIEVE he has power. He’s like a fear demon who you can look in the eye and say “I’m not afraid of you,” and he will have no more fear to feed on. So what do we do about his ACTUAL power, as president?

Break him. Oppose him. Fight him. Refuse to let him muzzle you, refuse to let him wrap chains around you or throw you in a Muslim internment camp. Stand up and shout as one, “The America of yesterday is a dream that has passed, the America of tomorrow belongs not to the rich or the selfish, but to the people, to their needs, to their future, to their hope for happiness.”

Speak. Question. Do not relent. The fight is only beginning. Steel yourself for the tidal wave. Maybe we won’t all make it through. But we have to try. Do not go silently, do not abandon hope.