THE CHAIN GANG DREAMS OF KRYPTONITE
It has become easy to think of the American political parties as two mammoth and unending chain gangs, with most Americans belonging to one or the other and blindly cheerleading for its respective brand of mediocrity. I watched the Republican debates the other night and thought the American body politic could be done a great service if someone would roll a grenade or two into the green room about five minutes before the scheduled event.
The rest of the candidates ganged up on Romney, the hair-gelled guy with the Rotarian smile and the better suit. He is the presumptive front-runner, meaning that eight Iowa farmers liked him better than the cement-headed Rick Santorum -- an off-the-rack, walking pile of Republican cannon fodder, who I suspect is only there for the base to hector Romney with. In their hearts, Republicans know Santorum cannot win. They allow him to run because they want Romney to move further right in order to court their support.
Every four years, we are reminded of the zero-sum game that American party politics really are -- it’s just a massive experiment on the idea of negative capability: just how loathsome must a candidate be in order for you to support our guy instead? What would more repel you as a voter: your guy being caught red-handed with a live boy, or a dead girl?
The other day I posited the idea that I might not vote on Facebook. Jesus -- you'd have thought that I'd pissed into Baby Jesus' manger. I actually had people I know tell me I didn't have the right not to vote.
Huh? If our Constitution means anything, it means you have the right to do whatever the fuck you want -- provided you not infringe on anyone else's pursuit of happiness. This is what I love about the Constitution. If you want to walk around your house with a lobster hanging from your sack, you can. It’s legal, this is America, and you are free to get your freak on however you want to -- and nobody can bust your onions about it.
One of the unwritten tenets of the Constitution that is understood loud and clear, however, says, “Mind your own fucking business and we'll get along fine, Butchie.” I have every right in the world to vote or not vote no matter what the squeak-heads say.
It always amazes me how susceptible our culture is to thinking as a group. All it takes is one fuck-wrench in a bar somewhere floating an idiotic thought or opinion, and the next thing you know people are pouring Red Bull into perfectly good vodka and grown-ass men are wearing Crocs and Axe body spray like 15 year-olds hoping to finger-bang a cheerleader. It is as if our heads are chained together.
140 years ago or so, the Transcontinental Railroad was built by slaves, Chinese and Mexicans, newly freed Africans, Confederate veterans of the Civil War, the newly indentured Irish immigrants -- you name it: whomever was at the bottom of the American economic scrotum pole.
The railroad was built on the backs of the poor and destitute with as much thoughtless cruelty as the Captains of Industry could muster. The amount of discretionary power the railroad had even superseded that of the government. At a certain point, it had its own police force -- which was actually a collection of mercenary goons called the Pinkertons -- who were, by and large, the slobs who couldn't become legit peace officers, the same assholes you see at Wal-Mart with the spray and the stick.
There is a pretty good TV show about it right now called Hell on Wheels. The show follows the murder of Indians, and anyone else who gets in the way, with a necessary brutality. When we teach our children how we “settled” and “built” America, it is important they have an idea about just what those words are code for. It means we stole and murdered our way to ownership.
The show has no scenes where Indians look positively fierce and heartless when attacking Whitey. And as well they should -- they were being murdered into submission by colonialists who regarded them as less-than-human. The wholesale slaughter of the Plains Indians and every other First Nation tribe, along with 400 years of brutal slave trade, is still part of our country's Original Sin. This is a country that was built by people in chains.
We often forget this when asked about rightful things like reparations, and creating equitable economic change for those we enslaved and stole from. When we go to vote, this is never what is on our mind. Instead, we think what our friends think, and this is dangerous.
History is an ongoing narrative. It didn't happen 100 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even yesterday -- it is happening now. And now is our best chance at making it more just.
Ask yourself if the person you’re voting for has any of this on his mind.
TONY FITZPATRICK is an artist from Chicago. For his blog, click here.