"A Tale of Two Americas" (Essay)

A look at the contrast between how two big political corporate oligarchies see our national future, versus life in a real community.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks in our little village. The blizzard of 2016 - dubbed Snowzilla - took shape almost exactly as predicted and lived up to 3 feet of hype. Being cooped up at home for days can bring out the worst in people, especially when compounded by health issues or other serious concerns. School was out for over a week, and as parents had to return to work, we scrambled to help one another watching kids and moving enormous amounts of snow.

It’s hard on everything else too, especially for structures that aren’t built to hold that load. Our much-adored local nursery, a fixture in this community for over a century, had a catastrophic roof collapse in its acre-sized greenhouse with thousands of tender non-hardy plants started.

Just a few nights later, the oldest house in our village went up in flames. Belonging to the only African-American family in the village, and built during the John Adams administration, the house smoldered and sparked and was completely engulfed over the course of a couple hours. The elderly Korean War veteran hasn’t been living at home lately, so thankfully no one was hurt, but the loss of precious personal mementos for a revered elder in our community seemed staggering.

As most small communities do when hard times strike suddenly, we banded together to lend a hand. Some 60 neighbors showed up at the nursery to form a bucket brigade moving thousands of surviving but vulnerable plants to a safe greenhouse - a huge boost to a devastated inventory of spring income. A couple days later, many more neighbors descended on the remains of Asbury Lloyd’s home to help salvage anything that could be recovered, and begin the long and daunting process of razing and rebuilding. There is more to do on both fronts in the days to come. I have no doubt that we will be there.

Coming together in times of adversity is certainly not new here. From olden days in our colonial past, or making it through the brutal winter after the Great Burning near the end of the Civil War, people here do put aside our differences and help their neighbors. When our big modern billion dollar budget school system tried to close our small crowded and paid-for community school three times in the last four years, we stood shoulder to shoulder as a community without regard for how every one votes, their economic status or anything else. This is our community, for all of us.

That’s the story of my America, of my little town. To listen to those who wish to win those votes and lead this great nation is to hear a tale of a completely different country. The vision of a nation on the brink of complete breakdown is touted by both sides, but especially by a lengthy list of candidates who want to return to some unspecified time period when things were “better” or “greater”. I know my neighbor the veteran sifting through the ashes of his home probably has no great desire to return to the segregation and Jim Crow of his youth. I’m sure other neighbors are relieved to pledge their lives to their loved ones, sharing their homes, property and facing the vagaries of old age securely together.

It’s hard for me to buy into the fear, the demagoguery and the hate. No one is a perfect person, and all of us are perfect humans - so say the Buddhists anyway. I don’t believe any of the candidates are who they or their rivals say they are. Their unimaginably well-funded backers fight and feud over us like two cage fighters locked in mortal combat, or maybe more accurately two corporate sports empires doing battle over us like some championship game. Agree with one or the other, we hardly have any choice but to choose sides - even if only to pick the lesser of two evils. The candidates themselves are storytellers, struggling to weave a narrative of a United States of Apocalyptica that needs them in a time of crisis, and to convince us that he/she is the one who can best save us.

My neighbors are pretty good at saving each other. Maybe we are unique, like some island of a bygone past bobbing on a sea of inexorable progress. But I doubt it; for in between all of the doom and mayhem we see daily, one can also find plenty of images and stories of people joining forces to sandbag against floods, raise money to help families struck by tragedy and illness, and the like. I suspect the real America might look more like my America than the images our candidates and their backers want us to believe. The differences between those two countries are startling indeed.

1 comment

  • Keir Hudson
    Keir Hudson
    Great essay! Also I heard about a book of essays in your last newsletter; I'm very excited about that! Where can I find more information on it?

    Great essay! Also I heard about a book of essays in your last newsletter; I'm very excited about that! Where can I find more information on it?

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