Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This Present Era of Violence

Like everything else Georgie Anne Geyer bothers to notice, the violent reaction to Obama's timid healthcare reforms underscores the need for a new era of Civility, as exemplified and made holy by wealthy white people from the East Coast circa 1950.

When I look back at our recent history -- say, from after World War II to today, in effect from our high point of respect and influence in the world to our low point -- I see a steady, outwardly inconsequential but inwardly poisonous loss of respect for authority. Americans never were very comfortable with authority, but that discomfort was balanced by a respect for the law and for the vote. Once an election was held, the man or woman elected was, generally, respectfully regarded and treated.

Somewhere between, say, 1954 and 1964, we started to lose some of our respect for the law and the vote, for some reason. And things have only gotten worse since then, what with the permissiveness, the multiculturalism, the illegal aliens, and all the other signs/causes of "our" "cultural" "decline."
Surely, there were great down-to-the-mat political fights and nasty name-calling, but the difference is that before, this country's drama was largely acted out within its own four borders. Today, it is acted out before the entire world.
We're squabbling in front of the help, in other words. It's just not done!
In earlier years, too, as the Eastern Establishment held sway over the electoral choices of both Democrats and Republicans, it was their elegant, upper-class manners that were to be mimicked, especially by immigrants.
Honestly, I think America is a pretty awful place, what with its brutal policies and its ludicrous anxieties and its hateful self-regard and its preening ignorance. But unlike Geyer, I don't think we can fix these problems, or any others, by insisting that our politicians start wearing cummerbunds and affecting a Transatlantic accent. The fact that her dream world is vanishing is one of the few things I actually find heartening about living in this goddamn snake pit. And that goes double for the fact that it's become slightly more difficult to conceal one's bone-deep racism under a veneer of bourgeois civility (as Geyer herself demonstrates in most of her columns).

I see no reason for our immigrants, documented or otherwise, to buy into Geyer's version of Kultur. It wouldn't gratify me to see them wearing top hats, quoting Shakespeare, calling for smelling salts when vulgar language is used, or learning any of the other social graces that would make them Serious People according to tedious middlebrow reactionaries like her. If they're truly in the process of destroying "her" America, I can only hope that they do a thorough job of it. (In reality, though, she could probably learn more about civility from them than vice versa.)

Which is not to say that Geyer has no valid points. We're both troubled by "the cultural vulgarity of the greedy and the chaos of the philosophically unrooted." Where we differ is that I tend to see Geyer as exemplary of both. (I also object to being lectured about cultural vulgarity by an admirer of Tom Tancredo, and about philosophical deracinement by an admirer of Shelby Steele.)

It's nice that she thinks all Americans deserve healthcare -- really, it is -- but that stance is undermined, in my view, by her snobbish inability to hear the 200-decibel echo of her ugly racial obsessions in the anti-healthcare rhetoric she denounces.

Assuming for the sake of argument that we really are suffering from a poisonous lack of respect for authority, too much fucking and sucking in Hollywood films, and immigrants who don't know any better than to use their salad fork for the main course, what's the solution? As Maxine Nightingale explained back in 1975, we've gotta get right back to where we started from:

How to go back? That is the question. How to recover the style and polish and decency that once were yearned for in our public life? That is the challenge. The hope is that this present era of violence, name-calling and threats will awaken us to where we have come -- and to whence we must return.

At which point, it will have served its purpose.

(Photo via Morons with Signs.)


charley said...

rock 'em sock 'em.

i say let the whole world have health care. we (the U.S.) could actually afford that. you know, if we were not so busy wasting money on killing people.

c'est la vie.

charley said...

ok, the metaphor is,

by no less the inimitable mike tyson

every body has a plan until they get hit in the face.

Rmj said...

You had me at fucking and sucking.

I really need to get out to the movies more.

Phila said...

You had me at fucking and sucking.

If I had a dime for every time I've heard that....

I really need to get out to the movies more.

I liked the one about that monster where they kill it and everyone's like "OMG it's finally dead!" but then it comes back to life a couple more times and they're like "OMG it's still alive!"

Tacitus Voltaire said...

Once an election was held, the man or woman elected was, generally, respectfully regarded and treated

it would be difficult to find a more inaccurate statement about american politics and society

just one example from the paticular era she misremembers so well: "to err is truman"

Phila said...

just one example from the paticular era she misremembers so well: "to err is truman"

IIRC, McCarthy got a bit lurid about George Marshall, too.

Dale said...

While we're on the subject of fucking and sucking -- well, some of us never actually left it, at least not on the inside, where it counts -- Georgie Anne Geyer's initials spell out "GAG."

Oh, the polysemy.

Anyhoo, I believe GAG means to say what she always means to say, which is some variation on the refrain from Scooby Doo: we would have had a fine country here if not for those meddling ... well, you know who.