Speaking both as an immigrant who has lived his American dream, and as an appropriator of the American heritage, from William Penn and his Quakerism to the can-do spirit of the John Kennedy times, through the civil rights and women’s rights movements, I can say with confidence that the American idealism, its exceptionalism in terms of an unrelenting desire for self-correction as a society, is alive and well.
Our June 30th MCDC online meeting and the consensus reached was a remarkable exercise in achieving a unity of purpose. We believe in progress, in putting lofty ideas into practice, turning protests into policy goals as everyday values to live by. That’s how we define ourselves as a segment of the American society. There are, of course, other segments of society who also have an equal right of self-expression, but ultimately, the ideals enshrined in the U.S. Constitution are what matter. The nation fought a civil war to establish its primacy, its promise of equality under the law, after all.
I was an accidental beneficiary of the civil rights movement when they were hiring a reporter in Arkansas City, KS, population 10,000 in 1974. I was freshly out of journalism school at Columbia, MO, just ahead of the nationwide rush into journalism in the aftermath of Watergate, and All the President’s Men. The town welcomed me with open arms, the disgruntled teachers and members of the Junior Chamber included. The folks at the courthouse and the sheriff’s office were friendly, too. In any event, they were flummoxed as to how I could be in the country barely 3-1/2 years and become a reporter in their town. They didn’t know anything about English usage in India, or anywhere else for that matter -- in this respect, however, Americans are no worse than a majority of the folks in other countries.
Arkansas City is perched on the Oklahoma border just where the 1893 Cherokee Run happened, and has residents who recall their grandparents having “made the run”. A delightful museum devoted to the Cherokee Land Run memorabilia is worth a visit if you are anywhere near the area.
Would the same people of Arkansas City welcome a nonwhite, immigrant reporter among them today? I am not sure, if experience is any guide. In early 2017, my wife Nayeem and I were on our cross-country drive when we stopped over at the office of The Arkansas City Traveler, which I had no trouble finding. The receptionist heard me say I used to work there 42 years ago, and she said that was nice, and introduced me to their reporter, who also thought it was nice that I was visiting. No more. It apparently did not occur to him to ask me about the changes I saw in their city. Any interview would have reminded him or his readers of the inescapable diversity of subcultures in America, and in their city, too. It was end of visit. The Trump Era had begun. A little more evidence of it was yet to come.
At the Cherokee Run Museum, the receptionist greeted us with, “Can I help you,” rather than to say welcome, and encourage us to ask questions. The murals both inside and outside the building depicted an idealized view of the land grab. One photograph stands out in memory, hatted attorneys with jackets on and signs hanging from their necks: Attorney at law, ready to record the deeds to the staked land parcels. I have wondered whether there was any other nation in the world history where land was distributed in the way it was in America, with the “winning of the West”.
Overall, though, we encountered nothing but friendly behavior in hotel breakfast rooms, in rest areas and in national parks and restaurants. Nayeem noticed an occasionally extra polite show of manners at the entrance to stores or in malls, indicating an awareness of differences among us. Which speaks to the basic decency of the American people, in the face of the discredited white supremacy Trump is clinging to. The extremists will retreat to their survivalist homes and watch a new chapter open in American history.
The Trumpian phase of American history is now almost over -- a new era is about to start. Hurry up, November 2020!