The Fight for the Soul

I believed him. I believed Uncle Joe. I believed his wise words about the need to find “the soul” of America. I agree: this is the moment to decide who we are, who we want to be, what kind of country we want to live in. Do we want to live in a divided, hateful place marked by selfishness above all else, marked by racism and sexism and an unimaginable economic inequality? Do we want to reduce all public spaces, all public institutions (like the Post Office) to rubble? Do we really want to destroy all safety nets? What exactly do we want? Is our goal to willingly extinguish our lives so that Jeff Bezos can put yet another billion in his pocket? (I have nothing against the man, BTW. I have everything against the system that allows him. To quote Chris Rock: “Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.”)

Just to be clear, Joe Biden is far from my ideal candidate. I was standing with Bernie and supporting his goal of “Medicare for All”, as well as his plan for free high education because I, just like Bernie, happen to believe that the right to health insurance and the right to education are human rights. Don’t forget: I am a child of socialism, a “product” of socialism. Whatever the problems of that system were, and there were many (for starters: no freedom of speech, no freedom of thought, no room for political dissent etc.), we were all getting free health insurance and free college education. How is it that this was possible in a poor little marginal country that had suffered through enormous devastation during WWII and it doesn’t seem to be possible in the richest country in the history of the world?

Many agree: the greatness of a country is reflected in the way the country treats its most vulnerable citizens. By that standard, how “great” is this country?  Oh, if only America would step down from its pedestal and forget about its own “greatness”. Maybe now is the time to be humble, to stop waving flags and stop reciting platitudes about “the greatest nation on Earth” and “the exceptionalism” of America and Americans. Maybe this is the time to accept America’s vulnerability, its connectedness to the rest of the world. If we want to erase white supremacy, male supremacy, all kinds of supremacies, we also need to take down the myth of American supremacy above all other nations of the world.

Am I hopelessly naïve when I ask: can’t we recognize our similarities instead of our differences? Can’t we see the threads that connect us instead of those that separate us? “Why can’t we all get along?” asked Rodney King at the time I came to America. And his question is still lingering on, without an answer…

Michelle Obama (whose beautiful, honest, deeply felt speech made me cry) summed it up: “If you think it cannot get worse, I’ll tell you: it can and it will.” As a former citizen of a country that self-imploded in a bloody war where neighbors were killing neighbors, where families were splitting along ethnic lines and where I was exiled only because I dared to express a different idea – the idea of unity instead of separation, of love instead of hate – I can attest to this: yes, it indeed can and will get worse. The unimaginable has already become normal, to quote Senator Sanders. How far are we prepared to go down the path of the unimaginable?

All of us who have chosen America as our home want to see the best America, the good and warmhearted America, the America that wants to help, the America that listens to the downtrodden, to the lost, to the wounded. But every day it’s getting more and more difficult to still believe in that America, that other America, the diverse, vibrant, just, compassionate America, an America that values people over money, honesty over lies, integrity over opportunism, justice for all over benefits to few.

Is this other America even possible? Or was it always just a dream, an idea, a distant possibility instead of reality? Have this president and his gang of shady criminals succeeded in their relentless effort to completely change the value system of this country? Has greed finally won? Has hatred? Is the America we live in today, the America that left its citizens and its medical workers to fend for themselves in the face of this pandemic; is this America the true America? Is Trump just the extreme expression of the ugly, secret truth about America?

I don’t want to believe this. And the DNC has given me some hope. Not much. But some. If only for his human decency, for his empathy and compassion, for his honesty and his warmth as a human being, I give my vote to Joe Biden. And if only for her mighty, AMERICAN family pedigree, I give my vote to Kamala Harris.

Yes, this is the fight for the soul of America.
As a person who has CHOSEN this country, I can only hope that America can and will, once again, find its lost soul and become the America I fell in love with in my youth, when I first heard Bob Dylan and Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and the Doors and Frank Zappa. I want it to be the America I found in the writings of Martin Luther King and Malcom X (whose autobiography my father, a life long antifascist who fought the Nazis in WWII, would translate into Serbo-Croatian, on spec, out of his own admiration for the man). I want this country to be the deep and soulful America I’d encountered in the words of Saul Bellow (my favorite writer in high school) and Phillip Roth and William Faulkner and Sam Shepard and Arthur Miller and David Mamet. The smart, brave and talented America. The America that inspires. The America that shows by example. The America I want to live in. The America I can love and admire.

So, yes to Joe and Kamala. Personally, I would have preferred two different names here. Those names are: Bernie and Alexandria.
But Joe and Kamala will do. They will have to.