In search of America during Thanksgiving week: it must be here somewhere

Driving halfway across the country visiting relatives in Kentucky and Missouri for Thanksgiving, I suddenly realized: I don’t recognize America.

I wonder if I have already done this?

I am the grandson of a Lebanese immigrant who came to the United States, he said, because it was the only place on the planet that allowed a man to be what he wanted. – where you were not judged by class, religion or race. When I was little my coach told me to trust and work with everyone on our football team, no matter who they were or where they came from. “You might not like the guy next to you, but he’s part of your team and you will block for him. “

The kids who gleefully blocked our running back turned out to be the same kids who beat other kids who looked like our running back, just because their skin was a different color.

I had a history teacher who preached “We take these truths for granted – that all men are created equal,” and that we have all been endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty and The pursuit of happiness . This same teacher was fiercely against the civil rights law and once proudly boasted, “Gay people don’t belong. “

I remember John Lennon singing “Give Peace a Chance” after John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were murdered and the Vietnam War raged. John himself was murdered a few years later by a deranged fan.

I thought about it when I pulled up to refuel at a gas station in Braxton County, West Virginia, along the I-79 corridor. The county is home to a 70-year-old legend about an alien dressed in a green cape with glowing red eyes who looked like a character from an episode of “Rick and Morty.” In 1952, local residents reportedly saw a shooting star land on the side of a mountain and some children who went there to search claimed that the alien had appeared and scared them. Some say it was a howling owl, flapping its wings while resting on a branch of a nearby fir tree. I guess it depends on what you drank for dinner and what you saw. But the local civic association embraces the myth and celebrates it every year in a local show.

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Residents at the gas station cheered the newly announced Kyle Rittenhouse verdict with equal energy. An employee and a customer apparently knew each other well enough to come to an agreement: The verdict was “good” and Rittenhouse “was a patriot”. They also applauded Rittenhouse for killing white people, “so n *** ers don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not always a question of race.”

“All we’re saying is give peace a chance.”

The next morning, at a restaurant in Louisville’s St. Matthews neighborhood, a multiracial and presumably heterosexual couple aloud worried about Rittenhouse’s continued safety – not because they loved him, but because they loved him. feared that if someone hurt him, the wrong people would be blamed. .

It was strangely funny crossing Kentucky. The University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have a fiercer rivalry than the Hatfield and McCoy feud. Louisville alumni are generally much more politically progressive than their Lexington cousins ​​at the University of Kentucky. Cardinals wear red. Cats, blue. No self-respecting Kentucky fan would ever be caught dead in possession of anything cardinal red – at least, not until Donald Trump showed up. Now you understand the laughter when you see a Wildcat fan wearing a Cardinal Red shirt, regardless of the tagline printed on it.

The next day, on the 58th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, I found myself at a Walmart in Columbia, Missouri, shopping for groceries and scheduling an eye exam while rotating my tires. I noticed the guy in the line in front of me was buying an air rifle and a bottle of bourbon.

For no reason, I thought about JFK then and remembered the first time I saw my mother cry. Mom and I watched on our little black and white TV as Jackie stepped off the plane with blood from the President’s fatal brain injury on her dress. Mom cried and it looked like the whole nation had been shot in the head that day. Some would say we never recovered.

* * *

While the delightful irony of the deep split in our country is best seen in the Kentucky / Louisville rivalry, the most dramatic example is seen on the I-70 corridor between St. Louis and Kansas City. As you travel to St. Louis on I-64 from Louisville, you will see many oversized billboards advertising Jesus, the church, used cars, lawyers, and public service.

You will also occasionally see a “Buyer’s Remorse Yet? sign taped to a haystack with a larger than life photograph of President Joe Biden.

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A truck on the road might pass you with a sign that says “BBB – Bite me Bigly Biden” – which would technically be BmBB. We all know what a “BM” is. That made me laugh.

In Missouri, you see all the billboards you see in Illinois, and more: “There is only one religion” followed by a half mile down the road with an advertisement for an exclusive club for men with “All the best naked girls”. About a mile away, a large notice board asks if you’ve been harassed at work. He promotes the #metoo movement and suggests that you contact a firm called Jungle Law. Then there are the numerous advertisements for gun shops, flu and COVID vaccinations, colleges, and a cannabis dispensary – in a dual display with a Jesus billboard. “Did I have Jesus?” ”

In short, Mid Missouri is a combination of the ending scene of “Easy Rider” and any road warrior scene from Mel Gibson’s “Mad Max” movies, with a hint of Mel Brooks when you have need to laugh.

Gas prices were at $ 3.49 a gallon leaving Maryland and in the middle of Missouri they fell below $ 3. Yet everyone in Missouri complained. “See what you get with Biden?” I heard more than one person offer a free comment. I have not asked. They said to me, “He’s destroying this country.

A few staff at a local grocery store in Colombia, wearing masks as per a company mandate, complained about doing so simply because of “a few people who only had snats”, while praising Trump’s efforts to develop a vaccine that they refuse to take because they are convinced the government wants to follow them. They spoke of Missouri making pot legal ‘with a card’, meaning medical marijuana is now legal and dispensaries are already popping up – but woman said government won’t let you get a permit guns if you can buy marijuana. “They’re afraid you’ll get high and shoot people,” I was told. You can still buy alcohol and guns together. In fact, there was a store in Columbia called Liquor, Guns and Ammo.

* * *

I’m sure the schism in this country has been around ever since the Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia and tried to chart a course forward that would unite us and guide us into a future where self-government and democratic principles are accepted and revered. But as a boy, I was blind to it. Donald Trump not only made it socially acceptable to be the worst version of yourself, he tore off the thin veneer of civility that has allowed us to work and live side by side with parents and friends who think differently. from U.S. Maybe I’m just naive.

Biden released a statement expressing disappointment at Rittenhouse’s verdict, but also addressed the need to accept it and move forward – without violence. has two different conceptions of justice: one for white people and one for everyone else. At the end of the day, I sat down talking with a young man and woman students in Mizzou. They said they hoped Rittenhouse would die. “But that’s what the other side is saying,” the young woman said, addressing her own hypocrisy. “I know I’m wrong, but they get away with it unfairly. Who will be the best person? Why do I have to be?”

Today we are too busy being angry, too angry, at how busy our enemies are. Most of us are convinced that we are walking victims with open wounds. “We didn’t get the free education the president wants,” the gray-haired white man said as he sat at his bar stool. He was talking about the Build Back Better program and the infrastructure bill – saying passing one was stupid because “we are already the biggest country in the world”, and lamenting the other because “j learned to stand up on my own and everyone should do it too. “A white woman with white hair sitting next to him remarked that it takes more to move forward in the world than before, while another aging white man scolded first, “You have a student loan to go to school, so shut up.”

Turns out that’s why it’s hard to recognize America.

We pretend to be one thing.

We are another.

Some of us yearn for freedom. Some people think that freedom does not include responsibility.

Some are angry, resentful and angry.

These people are living in a dystopia of their own mind.

I don’t recognize America because I don’t recognize dystopia. My grandfather’s words remain etched in my mind over 50 years after hearing them for the first time. And I give thanks this year for them: you could build a nation with these feelings

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