I got my passport today. Standing in line for hours at the passport office, it’s hard not to reflect on what it means to be an American at this particularly heinous juncture in this weird little experiment of ours. I’m suddenly overcome with an uncharacteristic sense of patriotism. Am I a patriot? Are you?
The woman next to me is fidgety. I wonder if she’s in a hurry to get her passport because of the impending doom that is the 2016 election, like she’s planning on fleeing the country whichever way that stale cookie crumbles. I wonder if people think I’m fleeing the country? I’m not. But is everyone else here standing in line for that reason? Surely one of us is. This is taking forever.
The fidgety woman just started playing Words with Friends with the volume all the way up on her phone, and she keeps trying to play words that aren’t really words because I can hear her laying tiles then and huffing every so often before making another move. She sighs. It’s the kind of sigh where you can tell she wants people to know she’s obviously unhappy with the way this line isn’t moving.
The TV in the corner is tuned to CNN and one of the presidential candidates is blurting out some gibberish. At this point in the campaign, a great many words have been dedicated to both candidates, so for the sake of the reader, I’m just going to refer to them as RedPill and BluePill, because let’s be honest, it’s a joke that these are the two people who are on the shortlist for the presidency.
I must admit, as an unaffiliated political observer I’ve been glued to the coverage of RedPill and BluePill, but especially RedPill because he has made a sport out of offending every possible demographic in the known universe. It’s upsetting. But like many other political observers, affiliated or not, I find myself laboring over the latest headlines while I sip my coffee and eat my grits every morning. What kind of crazy hijinks has RedPill gotten into this time? I devour it.
It was fun for a while. But now it feels like every morning I’m checking the vital signs of our soon-to-be-great-again nation, just waiting for the day our collective heart explodes from a lethal dose of false patriotism and we’re all left wondering what the hell we’ve done and where the good times went.
Do you ever feel like the slowest lemming? Like you’re watching all the other rodents jump off the edge of a cliff in front of you? Does it ever give you pause, slow lemming? What pill are you going to take before you jump, slow lemming?
(It’s been widely acknowledged lemmings don’t typically commit mass suicide except if there is some outside agitator like a predator — usually a weasel — or the filmmakers of the 1958 Disney documentary, White Wilderness, that helped perpetuate the myth of mass suicide by chasing a pack of lemmings off a cliff in order to get a good shot of them doing so. But for the sake of the analogy, just run with it, because even in that weird circumstance one of those rodents was the last one to jump and it remains unknown if he/she weighed their options first.)
Don’t get me wrong, BluePill leaves a bad taste in the mouth too. That’s made clear by the fact this election is still a contest — even if it seems favorable to BluePill at this particular point. But I don’t want to talk about the shortcomings of RedPill and BluePill anymore. Plenty of other professionals have done that already and they will continue to do so up until our scheduled nervous breakdown on November 8, 2016. I want to talk about the undercurrent of all this vitriolic hubbub. What does it mean to be a proud American in 2016?
It’s easy to be jaded lately, especially for a person who may be a slow lemming like me. Everyone is so set in their ways and they retreat to their holes when it comes to divergent opinions or when another lemming wants to engage in a rational debate about what pill to take before we jump. When did being American mean we have to agree on everything?
Yesterday, Kate (my effervescent bride-to-be, who is now with me in the passport line after filling out paperwork for the last hour in a back office) and I were doing laundry at the University Laundromat near our house in Southside. On the weekends there is a Latino family that parks their van out front and sets up a little taco stand in the shade under a couple trees. They have this hot rock that they cook the meat on. It’s cheap and authentic and delicious. You have to hand it to them, it’s an enterprising business model; show up where people are sure to have petty cash and an hour to kill and offer them some good, cheap food. They’re doing their best to track down the American Dream that people seem to think is dead as disco.
Given the backdrop of this year’s overarching theme of racial tension and the abandonment of “political correctness” — otherwise known as just being rude — I couldn’t help but think about how many people would consider it an act of patriotism to tell that family to pack it up and go back where they came from. Is that what patriotism is now? Some people sure seem to think so.
Or better yet, how many false patriots do you think enjoy eating tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas etc. at any given Mexican restaurant after they’ve left a rally where they chanted about building a wall? There has to be at least one person who stuffed their face with queso dip (colloquially known as cheese dip; also worth noting this is an American bastardization of Mexican cuisine) and salsa while they tried to sift their way through all the tremendous ideas they had just heard at the rally. I hope they spilled salsa on their novelty “Build that f****** wall” t-shirt.
I look at those people and I don’t see patriots, even the ones adorned in American flag memorabilia. I see a bunch of scared lemmings running fast from a perceived threat; a threat that in reality is just a bunch of opportunistic weasels with cameras trying to make sure the RedPill/BluePill show goes on. Stop being so scared. Look around you. This place isn’t as bad as the weasels want you to think.
The fidgety woman is now completely fed up. Maybe it’s the relentless jabbering on CNN in the corner that’s getting to her. Or it could be that she doesn’t know the real trick to winning WWF is memorizing the playable two-letter words like JO, QI or ZA and she keeps getting trounced by an unknown foe. In any case, she packs it up and storms out of the sluggish line, sealing her fate to fend for herself in America 2016, the year of our Lord, without a way out. I try and guess which pill she is going to take – probably Blue.
I know I said it’s not so bad here, but there is some comfort in knowing I can now book a one-way flight to 174 different countries if I get too fed up with the way things are going.
I can’t stop humming “I’m proud to be an American…” as we walk out of the passport office. Kate isn’t amused. She didn’t get her passport today because of some bureaucratic bologna. She just doesn’t know the high you get from having access to most countries in the world with one of the most coveted little books money can buy.
On this particular day, I am a patriot. After the passport office we go to my grandmother’s house where my dad cooks up a nice leg of lamb, tabbouleh, hummus and couscous. We wash it down with some fine Italian wine. After our Middle Eastern-inspired feast, we go downstairs and drink some Kentucky bourbon while my dad and I admire some of the latest additions to his gun collection. We go outside and fire off a couple rounds from his Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 revolver. As the gun smoke settles and the blasts reverberate down the valley, I realize that I’ve never felt more American than I do right now and there is no place I’d rather be.