Al Fonzi’s romanticized view of American history (“Once upon a time Americans … ?, Nov. 10), probably shared by many Trump voters, makes clear why there are still such deep divisions in American society.
He writes, for instance, “Any immigrant could tell you that this was a great country, a place where any man—and eventually women—could be whom they wanted to be, work at any job in any locale they chose to live. You were limited only by your dreams and willingness to pursue them.” In fact, millions of immigrants came to America seeking a small plot of land to farm for subsistence, but wound up down the coal mines, working till they expired from black lung disease, like my grandfather. Others landed in factories where they worked 12- and 14-hour days, six days a week, with few safety measures, no benefits, no job security, and no redress if maltreated by their employers; they often lived in company towns where their employers extorted their pay back from them by selling them necessities in the company store.
As to “any job in any locale they wished to live,” well, unless you were African-American or Jewish or a member of another hated group. African-Americans were redlined out of desirable neighborhoods, not allowed in good schools, and usually locked in servile jobs in which they still had to kowtow to whites and swallow the humiliation. Jews were similarly excluded wherever possible from good jobs and the social networks crucial to upward mobility.
He continues, “In WWII, the children of those immigrants put ethnic and class differences aside and united to defeat the most vicious assault upon Western civilization since the Mongols invaded Europe … .” Not exactly. The military was segregated, with African-Americans often stuck in servile positions waiting upon white officers or cleaning latrines. It took how many decades for the USA to recognize and honor the Navajo Code Talkers, whose work saved thousands of lives in the Pacific theater?
Later in the column, Fonzi wrote that the peoples of the countries where we fought trusted American soldiers, “knowing that Americans would honor international law in their treatment.” Not anymore. Now they might sit in Guantanamo for a decade or be waterboarded, intimidated with vicious dogs, or tied up and told that their slightest move would electrocute them.
Here’s American exceptionalism for you: “No other country in the world has the scope and breadth of personal freedom offered in this country.” Not so. Americans continually tout our Constitution as the most advanced founding document ever and live under the delusion that no one in any other country lives better.
Let me tell you: Numerous countries, such as Canada, Germany, Australia, and South Africa, have written constitutions in recent times, and they are generally better than ours. People in Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, and no doubt other places have either an equal or higher overall standard of living than residents of the USA. As to personal freedom, you might be free driving while white, walking while white, standing around while white, or having fits in the street while white, but try that if you’re black, and check your chances for survival. Try having a small prayer meeting in your church, while black. You’ll be OK until an angry, young white man with too-easy access to automatic weapons massacres you and your friends. Try to get an abortion in one of the states that has restricted it so severely that you have to drive hundreds of miles, take time off work, to maybe find a safe and decent clinic.
I am not going to honor Fonzi’s complaint about enforcement of civil rights in the face of someone’s refusal to render a service by labeling it a violation of religious freedom. Like it or not, the United States is a secular state. If anything, religious people have limited the freedom of nonbelievers or of peoples of other faiths (e.g., Islam) to freely disclose and exercise their beliefs. Try announcing to a roomful of typical Americans that you’re an atheist. See what happens.
Last, and by no means least, women. Why have women had to wait to “eventually” receive rights as basic as the franchise, the right to own property—even the right to own themselves? Women still, in spite of all the “political correctness,” earn three-quarters of what a white man earns. The glass ceiling is still very much in place. What is the proportion of female top executives to men? What is the proportion of male to female representatives in Congress? Why do we not have a woman President today? Women still can’t take a walk late at night, or be in a remote or secluded place with a man without fearing for their lives. Women are still sexually harassed, sexually and physically abused, raped, beaten, and even killed by men who supposedly love them. Some college men feel that it is a sign of masculine prowess to get a young woman drunk beyond self-control, and rape her, even if she is unconscious.
I don’t know if it’s blindness, denial, or an inability to accept truth that made so many white men so angry that they elevated a lying, crude, egomaniac without a shred of public service experience into our highest office. It is very difficult to live with the idea that our civil rights, our economic well-being, and our livable ecosystem is at risk because certain white men can’t get over themselves. It’s time to face the truth. America has been great, and it has been flawed. You don’t lose anything by acknowledging that. If anything, you gain stature because you own truth instead of fantasy. Women and minorities have been obliged for centuries to cater to the egos of white men, no matter how degrading, disrespectful, or dangerous the demand. And now white men can’t abide being asked to be merely reasonable, for the good of all?