America, How Did It Come To This?

by Phil Rockstroh

January 5, 2004   


I must simply come out and say it. I can no longer hold back because of the fear of appearing hysterical, or foolish, or both. My relationship with you -- the United States of America, land of my birth, the country that I have loved with the animal grace of a child (but that later would disillusion me as if I was some fledgling lover, shattered by the cleaving ardor of impossible expectations) -- has become strained, perhaps irreparably broken.

Growing older, I thought we had stumbled upon the knowledge that our love would deepen, despite our flaws; I thought we had blundered upon the awareness that human understandings grew in the clearings where the inhuman fires of perfectionism had raged and burned themselves to char; I believed we had come to appreciate that the loam in which love flourishes is enriched by the ash that remains after the passing of passion's firestorms.

Now, I am heartsick, feeling like a hapless mate who has awakened, mortified, in the middle of the night, to the sudden realization that the person with whom he has shared a bed for many long years has in some inexplicable way become an utter stranger to him.

And: Not someone he likes in the least.

America, I can barely stand the sight of you and I know you feel the same way about me.

I know I'm less than a prize myself -- but just take a look at yourself: You've grown fat, and stupid, and mean, and intolerant. How did you become such a phony, such a hypocrite, such a liar?

Not that you were ever pure or perfect, I mean, what or whom ever was. Lord knows we made a bad start of it: Starting with that awful little secret of the southern side of your family, regarding the matter of its livelihood being derived from the toil of slaves. Sadly, its vile and moronic legacy still lingers. When they start talking about "southern strategy" and "red states," I just want to go bug-fuck crazy. I've have had my fill of it! I can't bare to hear one more toxic syllable of that cretinous cracker cant. It's stupid and pernicious and it has shriveled and stunted us all. Sure, you've traded the shotgun shack for a suburban track home, your Klan meetings for right-wing radio, rickets and pellagra for high blood pressure and diabetes, the lionizing of slave owners and confederate generals for the hagiography of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. By the way, Reagan was and Bush is a dim, manipulative opportunist, who will fawn over you and will tell you that your sins are your virtues, your denial is divine inspiration, and the dimming, dying flame of your spite is the light of a distant lode-star guiding your way to paradise. That is... as long as you're willing to blindly transfer the rightful fruit of your labors to them and their powerful benefactors (people who would laugh aloud in your face if you ever had the temerity to approach them as equals) as you go on hating, resenting, and blaming everyone but them for your troubles.

Then there was that embarrassing matter of building our house upon the real-estate we had shamelessly stolen from the original inhabitants of the land. Just once, I'd like to hear you utter the word: Genocide. Yes, that's how the land came to be ours. And we both know it. Let me hear you say it: G-E-N-O-C-I-D-E. Is that so hard? Now, we can work on the word R-E-P-A-R-A-T-I-O-N-S.

In the beginning, we were so young and intoxicated with each other and with our fumbling discovering of this exotic and erotic thing called freedom. Also, the abundance of all those new world intoxicants such as tobacco, coffee, and cheap corn liquor didn't do much to dampen our delusional passions. Yes, the cliché is true, that Rome (or any other empire for that matter) wasn't built in a day -- it only feels that way if you have the right buzz going.

But Christ on a Crackpipe, the high has been harshed. I wake up in the morning and I want to scream, "How did it come to this?" Your breath stinks of carbon monoxide -- it's like you've been French kissing the tailpipe of a Humvee. Sometimes, I wish you'd just wrap your lips around that tailpipe and commit suicide by internal combustion engine fellatio. (I mean it's coming to that anyway, you know.... But you selfish prick, must you take the rest of the world with you when you go?)

I want to weep every time I look into your eyes, eyes that have been dimmed by too many meaningless jobs, stupid television shows, dissembling commercials, time-devouring traffic jams, the idiot's orgy of corporate sports events; your eyes, they contain that glazed look that people get at the end of Super Bowl Sunday, that sullen, vacant expression brought on by being pummeled insensate from all of the meaningless hype, eyes that betray that sense of hollowed-out loss that descends at the game's end, just at the moment, when they turn, once again, to face the emptiness of their lives. You've seen it, America: the dismal spectacle of a hundred million blunted minds not registering the yawning abyss we've made of our existence, but our eyes, nevertheless, reflecting it, becoming as empty as mirrors facing a void.

When I try to talk to you, these days, you become a mindless phalanx of sneering riot cops in full body armor, blocking the wide boulevards of free discourse. If I persist and I speak my mind to you, you answer me back with pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets.

That violent streak was always there, I suppose. Just ask the Filipinos, the Nicaraguans, the Vietnamese, the Panamanians, the Iraqis. For that matter, just ask minorities and the poor right here, right now. That is precisely the problem: You never ask. I think I know why -- because you really don't give a rodent's rectum.

You just want us to shut up and subsist on a diet of your lies, but I cannot swallow another bite. Worse yet, it's not only that you want me to live off your lies: You want me to buy the groceries at inflated prices, cook them for you, serve them to you, smile submissively at you across the table, laugh at your bad jokes, ignore your gluttony and your terrible table manners, then clear the table when you're finished and wash the dirty dishes. I want to pound my fist on the table, hurl my plate against the wall, and I want to scream at the top of my voice, Enough! I don't care if the neighbors hear. I don't care what they think. It's not as if they don't know the truth about what's going on in here.

Yes, I know you have the power to silence me, by marginalizing me, by labeling me a misfit, or a malcontent, or even a traitor. But: Every cell in my mind and body is shouting out -- that, at this point in time, silence itself is treason.

You may even succeed in silencing me. You have destroyed those far more powerful than I. Time and time again, you have proven your ruthlessness. You have a talent for tenacity. You will not rest until you destroy any and all you perceive as a threat to your power. You take to the task like a tick to blood.

If you succeed in suppressing all who oppose you, what then?

Then who will speak for the dispossessed, for the discarded, for the forgotten and broken souls who have lost their voice? Or, more accurately, had it stolen from them, outright. This is the jist of it: You are a thief, a thief of the worst sort -- one who robs what is most precious -- you are a thief of hope. But: To hell with you, goddamn it -- you can't have any more of mine.

I see what you have become and how you sustain yourself. How you prey upon the hopes of others, because you have grown so empty and devoid of your own sense of it -- I see that your thirst for hope has grown so insatiable that you roam the world, relentlessly, in search of it: Where ever you go, you leave a wasteland in your wake.

But there are places you cannot reach. There are hidden reservoirs of hope within us. Reservoirs that are as boundless as is the breath of your ruthlessness. These waters are as deep and potent as you are shallow and shameless. They are inaccessible to you. What you can never know is this: From these reservoirs emerge rivers of renewal that run between all of those who turn away from the dry, dead landscape of your lies.

These streams of hope and renewal silently flow between those who have glimpsed this: That each generation must struggle against the soulless seekers of absolute power, that each era is a wasteland, that every human being born of woman learns life is unfair, but must seek to drink from the waters of hope so that our tongues will not wither to cynical dust.

Empires rise and fall, but hope remains, flowing through time and place, bearing all things to the sea and back around again, forever returning, transforming dust to dreams, despair to aspiration, bringing new life to the dry, dead land, slaking our thirst, cleansing our wounds, delivering to us the strength to make and remake the world anew, and, at day's end, lulling us to restful sleep to the timeless cadences of its ceaseless currents.

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America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Phil Rockstroh on Swans (with bio).

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Published January 5, 2004
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