We have met the enemy and he is us.
—Pogo cartoon by Walt Kelly back in the 60’s
You know what I miss? The enemy! Just before and when I was growing up, we had the Krauts and the Japs to hate, then immediately followed with the Commies and the Ruskies and Fidel Castro and his beard. Later still, we had the Axis of Evil to contend with and then Al Qaeda and then ISIS. It was so invigorating to have all the bad guys out there so we could conveniently ignore our own history of broken Indian treaties, slave-owners, lynchers, ruthless big business exploiters, imperialist invaders, women-haters, homophobic policy-makers, certified environmental trashers and beyond. Sure, we had out little problems, but this was still the greatest country in the world and the ones to be hated, pitied, warned against, were always “out there.” We took great comfort in the “starving children in India, the South American despots, the war-torn/ famine-ridden Africans, the commie-deluded Chinese, the quaint Europeans stuck in their museums and fancy architecture and so on.” Such a shame that they couldn’t enjoy the wonderful freedoms of being an American—that is a straight white-male Christian white-collar one. What made us “great” was our comforting delusions of being united against “them.”
But when the Berlin wall came tumbling down and Russia collapsed and Mandela was freed and then elected and China made most of our goods and Europe surpassed us in education, health care and general quality of life, the notion of defining ourselves by the enemy abroad began to topple. Such a great moment to re-consider the strange need to create an identity dependent upon an enemy. But instead we took this opportunity to begin eating our own.
Of course, if you believed as so many did, that Native Americans, blacks, blue-collar workers, Latinos, women, children, gay folks, Jews/Muslims/atheists and beyond are something other than “our own, “not “real” Americans, then turning against our own citizens is as American as apple pie—without the acorn mush, collard greens, Irish potatoes, tacos, latkes, falafel and organic vegetables, thank you very much. But in our insatiable greed for money, the controls against monopoly toppled one by one, Corporate America and Wall Street rose unchecked and we began to devour our own children and eat away at whoever stood in the way.
Take Walmart. Comes riding into town like the old gunslingers, buys up the Moms and Pops, builds outside the city limits and Main Street collapses and people drive to the outskirts and then we wage war in the Middle East to get the oil to fuel the cars to drive to the mall to buy the products made more cheaply in sweatshops overseas. So our own factories close, put our own people out of work, local culture dies and Walmart takes all of the profits.
And then the most incredible thing happened. Without a single shot being fired, we elected in a “fair” election (well, let’s not talk about Russia’s part in it), the leader of our own demise who despite a few million less in the popular vote, feels he has our permission to make America the old kind of “great” (all those citizens who aren’t “real” Americans) and start shooting ourselves in the foot and eating away at our own body of democracy.
And we did it. Not the Nazis, not the Commies (well, again, Russia), not the terrorists. It was us. Or at least the gerrymandered Electoral College us. And all the people whose jobs got shipped overseas were so duped and deluded that they voted for the guy who was part of the 1% who made it all happen. Who claimed he was turning America back to them (wink, wink) and getting rid of all or shutting down all those pesky other pseudo-Americans who dared to look, feel or think differently. Twitler rises to the top and nobody notices. Well, except for some 4 million people worldwide who gave up shopping at Walmart last Saturday to say that this Emperor has no clothes and it ain’t a pretty sight.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow. We’ve chosen castor oil as the daily condiment of our new cuisine and we better get used to it. The carnage has begun and is simply extraordinary. Even conservative Republicans are shocked.
Of course, we have another choice. Recognize once and for all that the enemy is us, and us is our fellow workers, family members, colleagues and citizens in states that can feel more foreign than any country in the world. The enemy is also apathy, ignorance, greed, manufactured distrust, hatred that we all potentially carry and that we all need to recognize and work to overcome. That’s the common enemy that could and should unite us. But that would require a subtlety of thought that makes for bad T.V. and apparently is beyond our capacity at the moment. Maybe it's time for a Martian invasion. Get the enemy back out there where we like him.