Sometimes I half expect to wake up from a looooooooong sleep, one that featured a dream lasting for decades. No nightmare I have ever had can hold a candle to the daymares the world faces on a daily basis.
Remember that scene from the movie Private Benjamin (1980), when the adorable Goldie Hawn, surrounded by circumstances far beyond her abilities to cope with, told her Captain:
Judy Benjamin: I think they sent me to the wrong place.
Capt. Lewis: Uh-huh.
Judy Benjamin: See, I did join the army, but I joined a *different* army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms?
When I was growing up, my world was very small – small town, small family, small parochial school – and I was surrounded by a lot of people with small aspirations. But my imagination was huge.
I imagined that people in the rest of the world were hearing the same lessons I was learning about brotherly love. When asked by someone what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer always included some form of “I want to help people.” You see, that’s what I thought we were put here to do.
As my world grew, so did my expectations of life. I thought it was quite remarkable, the things human beings were accomplishing in the 20th century. From horses to horse-power. From riding in cars to flying among the clouds. From clunky manual typewriters to sleek portable computers. From operators asking “Number, please?” to one phone for every person to carry in a pocket.
I marveled at the complex minds that worked together to create such magic in such a short time. I believed corporations like the one I chose to build a career within were run by some of the finest minds in the world, and I couldn’t wait to finish school so I could get in there and mingle with those powerful minds.
The light started dimming on that vision not too long after I fulfilled my goal of joining a high-powered nationally known corporation as a college recruit. It was gradual, that dimming. I held onto my idealism for dear life, probably because I wanted to be in on the action. I wanted to be in the midst of all these brains working together “for the greater good.”
But the realities of human foibles became too vivid to ignore. There were people in high places who were quick to do low-down acts of disingenuity. There were people in positions of power who were far out of their depths and terrified of being found out. So they lied and cheated and stepped all over the very people upon whose backs they had climbed.
My dream of helping people went up the same chimney as my belief that most people are inherently good…and smart. I was astounded by the number of certifiably dumb people I encountered in my day-to-day life in the corporate cauldron.
I started paying attention to politics in more than a peripheral way when I was in my thirties. Based on the civics classes I took in high school, I came to believe the United States of America had the best system of government in the world. I actually believed we were a democracy and that my vote was equal to every other American’s vote. Why else would so many people in the South be willing to die just for the right to cast a ballot? I was passionately liberal, still believing it was our human inclination to adopt the Three Musketeers’ motto: All for one and one for all.
By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I was forced to send that vision up the chimney with the other smoky ideals I had. I paid 16.5% interest on a mortgage. I burned a quarter tank of gas waiting in blocks-long lines to buy gas, thanks to a foreign-policy-induced “shortage” of gasoline.
In my forties I heard increasingly more rhetoric from conservative neighbors who said “I’ve got mine. Let them get their own.” Reaganomics. Trickle-down.
Similar to Private Benjamin, I think I landed on the wrong planet. I was brought up to believe in a country that was a melting pot. We were the country that had a giant green torch-holding lady in the New York harbor who stood there to welcome all comers – even those who might have arrived on the Amistad.
I was taught that the key to success in any endeavor is the ability to compromise. And the people around me in my childhood told me to fight hard for what I believe, but that the majority rules, so if you are on the losing side, you must stand behind the winning leader and support him.
Tonight I watched and heard the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, deliver a rousing stump-speech of a keynote address at the Republican National Convention. “We are not afraid. We are taking our country back.”
Where am I?