My thoughts on tomorrow’s anniversary. These reflect my political point of view. It’s a downer, in case you’re scrolling for lighter content right now. This is just me getting stuff out of my system.
The first news event I remember being aware of occurred when I was in the seventh grade.
A daring attempt to rescue hostages taken from the American Embassy in Tehran (in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution) went horribly wrong in a dust storm.
The rescue helicopters crashed and the burned bodies of US soldiers were dragged in front of cameras.
In the negotiations to free the hostages, Iranian revolutionaries wanted to get hands on their overthrown US-supported monarch (the Shah) who had escaped to the USA.
The US negotiated with Panamanian dictator General Torrijos to offer sanctuary to the Shah in Panamá, thereby transferring the issue somewhere else.
I grew up in Panamá which was one reason this story caught my attention. It’s the first time I felt aware of a global geopolitical context to my life.
In another incident that stands out for me, the space shuttle Challenger blasted off carrying the first civilian astronaut – a teacher. I watched the shuttle explode on live TV, killing the crew in a shocking display. It was 1986.
In 1989, I lived in Tallahassee when a friend called one morning to tell me to turn on the TV. Operation Just Cause had just been launched by the US military to depose and arrest Panamanian dictator General Noriega who had been indicted on US drug charges and was subjecting his nation to a brutal crackdown of civil dissent by the opposition in Panamá. An opposition who had vowed to not back down until Noriega left power.
I couldn’t reach my family on calls to Panamá City and watched as the TV showed sections of the city ablaze in the morning hours as explosions boomed from firepower directed at the strongholds of the dictatorship.
Reports came in about Noriega’s kill squads roaming the city with hit lists of Americans and Panamanians. I watched a former classmate interviewed by CNN tearfully describe how Panamanian defense forces arrived at her house in the middle of the night to drag her father away at gun point. His executed body was found a few days later.
Another world event seared in my brain is 9/11. I recall details – who I was with, where, a phone call with a friend from New York, the horror, the heartbreak.
But January 6 stands apart. It’s a day that changed the way I think about fellow citizens and my perception of the United States as a nation.
I grew up fully indoctrinated as an American male with the privileges that come with white skin. I was surrounded by US military stationed in Panamá. My dad was retired military and both parents worked for the US Department of Defense in Panamá.
I proudly held my hand over my heart as the national anthem played before every movie I ever watched on a base movie theater. I recited the pledge of allegiance at school. I believed the whitewashed history I was fed.
Later on, as a gay man who came out in the late 80s in Tallahassee, Florida, I felt assaulted by Christian political extremists in the USA and a hostile government. I remember preachers on TV praising AIDS as God’s punishment for sodomites. And plenty of politicians pandered to that constituency. Especially in the South. And Tallahassee was culturally more South Georgia than South Florida.
I was under no illusions about the inherent goodness of America as a nation chosen by the Almighty as the most righteous on earth. I knew that to be BS.
After all, I grew up as a colonial in a Central American nation dominated by the imperialism of its North American partner.
Having a Panamanian side to my family and Panamanian friends provided me additional perspectives. I understood the history and sentiment behind “yankee go home” spray painted graffiti I’d occasionally spot on buildings and signs in the Canal Zone.
American history is whitewashed for good reason. The good stuff is inspiring. The ugly stuff is horrific. And there’s plenty of ugly stuff.
But unlike with Santa Claus, there never comes a time when grown ups sit down and come clean about American mythology versus the truth in all its complicated shades of good/bad/ugly. Others may disagree, but I think this gentrification of history is a disservice.
Still, I had never lost trust in the efforts of most citizens and leaders to constantly push in good faith to make things better, fairer, more equitable, safer, smarter. Not just for themselves, but for the entire world. The only differences were in how to do so.
Until January 6, 2021.
It’s possible this may change for me in the future and that I’ll regain some of my idealism and pride. But right now, I still feel disgust.
I want justice for what happened on January 6. I want the full truth. I want treason charges, if the facts support it. I want leaders in jail. I want new statutory protections to reduce future risks.
Other republics have successfully punished wrongdoers who have served in their highest offices.
We should as well.
I’m not confident that I’ll get what I want given the divisions within a population that’s easy prey for online misinformation and content that feeds the worst impulses of human nature. Content that’s produced and spread domestically as well as by America’s foreign enemies and rivals.
For now, I don’t expect redemption for the nation and the violent attack on the American government and it’s much-admired tradition of peaceful transfer of power.
Perhaps there’s even worse to come. We shall soon see.
I no longer trust the intentions or judgment of about half the country’s population – at least those of my Generation X and Baby Boomers on up (age ranges associated with the largest chunks of Trumpists).
I’m looking forward to when younger generations come of age and begin to take over the reins of power — as savvy digital natives and as the most multicultural, diverse, non-religious, and inclusive cohort in US history.
They better be smart as well – they’ll face huge challenges. They carry my hopes, blessings, and best wishes.
In the meantime, January 6 will continue to remind me of how a substantial portion of the land-of-the-free-and-the-home-of-the-brave not only failed to live up to its ideals, but threw these ideals in the garbage and then took a dump on them. And continue to do so.