It can't happen here, Sinclair Lewis wrote ironically in 1935.
On a snippet of radio heard over the weekend, commentators discussed health reform protesters openly carrying firearms at public rallies. Even a year ago, they offered, no one would have predicted something like that would happen here in America. The Oklahoma City bombing wasn't supposed to happen here, either.
That is cause for pause. In America, historian Rick Perlstein wrote recently in the Washington Post, "the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy."
Over at Firedoglake, markfromireland recalls Katy Abram, the "you have awakened the sleeping giant" town hall protester who demanded that Sen. Arlen Specter "restore this country back to what our founders created...." The previously non-political Abram became a poster child for a movement that believes something is suddenly very, very wrong in America.
Mark writes, "America as far as Abram is concerned is on the verge of extinction. The real America that is, the one she thinks the founding fathers invented." Her tribe is "symptomatic of an existential crisis for those white conservatives who consider America to be their property."
The anger is not just about health care, Abram told Specter. Markfromireland elaborates:
In a tearful appearance on Glenn Beck's radio show after a flood of media scrutiny, hate e-mail and a name-calling phone call, Abram whined, "They're trying to set up the normal people of this country."
An increasingly hard-up working and middle class who were already living in terror of dislocation and poverty are now seeing threats to their well-being amplified by recession. The American dream (and reality) for such people was expressed through ownership of property. However meagre their actual possessions may be those possessions are theirs ... Anything that smacks of "socialism" really does seem to be both alien and menacing to such people.
The comment evoked the late Bruno Kirby's uptight Lt. Hauk from Good Morning Vietnam, who insisted that armed forces radio eschew rock and roll for "normal modes of music" like Lawrence Welk, Jim Nabors and Mantovani. Now, as in the 1960s, the times they are a-changin' - rapidly - and rapid change is especially threatening to people with rigid ideas about normal, about what America is and to whom it belongs.
"These programs are being funded by me, my husband, our friends, our family," Abram complained to Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's Hardball. No acknowledgment of any contributions by the Others. Normal people's property, real Americans' taxes may help pay for programs that benefit abnormal, lesser Americans. That's socialism.
There is no "we" in this myopic view, no welcome for your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of fellow Americans, much less immigrants. There is only my family, my friends, my neighborhood, my church and my ethnic group, a view that is sadly widespread. America is for people like me. Others need not apply. I'm all right, Jack.
After reviewing Abrams' performance, my wife had an epiphany - the taxes we pay support aging teabaggers, gun-toting heath reform alarmists, and Katy Abram's parents' Social Security and Medicare. And my wife and I have no problem with that. It's the price we pay for civilization. But it's annoying to hear them whine about it like ungrateful, spoiled children.
The notion that, in America, we take care of our own seems lost on flag-waving, sunshine patriots. As a radio ad from our little 527 group (bluecentury.org) suggests,
We train our soldiers - never leave a team member behind. It's a code of honor. Why is that good enough for our troops, but not the rest of us?