This is dedicated to the memory of Mahnaz Kousha, one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had, a kind, beautiful and fiercely intelligent woman who taught me about narratives among other things.
It’s been hard to know whether or not to keep writing with about what’s going on in the world. Words seem a paltry defense against the hatred and fear that’s spreading like a malignancy. However, working for the past month at the Minneapolis VA has reminded me that fighting for our country, in any way possible, is a never ending duty as an American. Just the other night I admitted a veteran in his eighties. When I walked back to the wards to check on him, he asked the nurse to step out of the room and give us a minute. He said he had something he wanted to say about one of his responses to my neurological assessment. You know the funny look I gave you when you asked me who the president was, he asked. I just want you to know that even though I don’t like what he’s doing, especially towards those Hispanics, I respect the office. It was tender to watch this sick old man working hard to stand in his integrity as both an American and a veteran in the face of mindless stupidity. I’m sure there are many veterans who support Trump, but I haven’t met any yet at the VA.
The veterans I’ve met, many of whom have served their country at the expense of their physical and mental health, seem baffled by the lack of basic integrity of a draft dodger who they now find as their commander and chief. Whether one agrees with even the basic idea of the military or not, it is undeniable that these men and women have suffered to pursue the ideal of a greater good. My resident and I joked about how almost every vet that we admitted assumed I served and asked me what branch of the military I was in. What surprised me though was the universal reply of That’s serving your country just the same, when I responded that I served in the Peace Corps. My service was not the same and didn’t come with the same kind of sacrifices, but working at the VA reminds me of the feeling of greater purpose and community with my fellow Americans that I had while serving abroad. It’s this feeling that compels me to keep fighting in any way that I can. For me, part of this means trying to deconstruct the current political narrative and replace it with a better one.
It’s always dangerous for an imperfect man to attack an ideology because I know I fall prey to the same mental pitfalls as anyone else. Therefore I’ll state at the outset that I’m deeply flawed and know it. I’m a glutton, I’m often unaware of my privilege, I can be careless regarding the consequences of my decisions, and I’m not a vegetarian, to name a few. I want to simply acknowledge that I know I’m no better than anyone else when I advocate for a better world. However, although I often fail to live up to my own values, I still believe it’s my obligation as a human being to fight for justice when it’s being circumvented.
The current state of politics is not and cannot be about partisanship. I say that because there’s no equivalency. The Democratic Party holds a multitude of dissenting opinions. There are advocates for change, advocates for restraint, spenders, fiscal conservatives, war hawks, and pacifists. They are made up of inspirational leaders like Bernie Sanders and monsters like Harvey Weinstein. They aren’t liberal or conservative, they are simply an amalgamation of a multitude of political parties that find themselves joined together in an unlikely alliance. The Republican Party on the other hand, led with their own complicity by Donald Trump, is a party which has centralized its values around anti-science, xenophobic, chauvinist, anti-intellectual, and racist policies that reinforce the status quo and further exacerbate inequalities in race, gender, and socioeconomics. These policies leverage the fear, faith, and anger of mostly white people by dangling a narrative of white Christian superiority as a carrot to consolidate power in the hands of those who already have it.
Draconian immigration policies, a complete and utter disregard for the environment, an assault on education and reproductive rights, and tax policies that benefit the super rich have been the bread and butter of Republican policies since I could vote. There is an important role for dissent and differing political opinions in a democracy, but that role shouldn’t be based in a morality that is rooted in fear, ignorance, and hate. Like I’ve said before, I think this country has the potential to be a force for good in building a better world. What I’m going to write about isn’t a matter of partisan politics, it’s a matter of morality and common sense. We cannot get to that better world as long as the Republican narrative is given any kind of legitimacy. I will therefore try to deconstruct that narrative in spare moments where I’m not rotting my brain on Netflix or navel gazing with a tumbler of whiskey. I want to do this in order to better understand how to fight for justice, but I also want to uncover and create a common sense narrative for what’s going on.