A few years ago, when it was his appointed month to choose a title for his book club, my dad picked Me Talk Pretty Someday by David Sedaris. Having heard both my brother and me rave about it, and having read one or two of the essays for himself, he thought it would be a nice change of pace for his club, which is made up solely of retired junior and senior high teachers and two librarians.
This is a book club that reads Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck, literature from Iran and Iraq. Satire, under the best of circumstances, isn’t necessarily appreciated unless it was written by Jonathan Swift but I guess my dad thought the book’s humor would transcend the members’ reticence. It wasn’t until he walked into the book club meeting and noticed only two of the six women in attendance, and both of them with withering looks on their faces, that he realized he might have made a really bad decision. The book was vulgar for vulgarity’s sake, the two women said. They only came to book club to tell him to never, ever make such a selection again. There were too many swear words, and offensive content. The other women didn’t show up out of protest – they had stopped reading the book after the first essay. The men in the book club had shown up and even read the book, but they agreed with the women – too vulgar, too base – not the sort of material a book club needs to spend its time discussing.
Contrary to the way I would have reacted, my dad didn’t take their reactions personally – he even laughed about it. “I forgot my audience,” he said. “I forgot who I was working with. I mean, these are the kind of people who grimace if you pour a second glass of wine at a dinner party – these are people who happily spend hours debating the merits of serving a loaf of bread versus individual slices at the next spaghetti dinner fundraiser. They aren’t going to appreciate humor above and beyond a well-crafted knock-knock joke.”
That’s sort of how I felt this weekend when I watched half a million people show up for the Glenn Beck rally in Washington D.C. – for a couple of years, ever since the election, really, I had more or less forgotten or, at the very least, ignored, the Tea Party and all its many levels of crazy. I forgot what we, as a country, are working with and that is, a growing party of white people convinced their rights are being stolen out from under them, and by this they mean more or less that the government is doing the unthinkable and sharing their rights with, God forbid, as much of the country as possible.
What astounds me about the people from the Tea Party who give interviews isn’t their conservatism – I have had moments, on certain issues, where I have understood where the other side of the fence is coming from – and it isn’t their Christianity, because I am a Christian albeit not one who prosthetizes in the streets – but what comes across as their comlete and total lack of empathy for anyone other than themselves. Members of the party talk about returning to values – of restoring honor to our country, but they don’t mean returning to values by finding a way to feed and house our nation’s poor – and restoring honor doesn’t mean finding jobs for the hundreds of thousands across the country without them. Instead, they focus on the same old tired subjects of abortion and gay marriage, as those these two things are somehow ruining the morality of our country as a whole.
A couple of years ago this group would have raised my ire substantially, with its threat to put up Sarah Palin as the Republican presidential nominee and its rabid hate speech against Obama, as well as their malicious and ridiculous questioning of his religion. Now, though, I just feel sad for this group – this group that seems so full of hatred and darkness and out-right racism. It’s more apparent now than ever that those who flock to hear a television and entertainment persona decry the state of our country are doing so because, like so many of us, they are scared – scared about finding or losing jobs, scared about the plummeting values of their homes, scared about the state of the public school system and whether or not they can one day afford to send their children to college. These are fears prevalent throughout the country, and it is so much easier to admit them and choose to face them together instead of hiding behind this idea that our values are somehow more corrupted than they were a century ago.
I guess this situation is only going to get more heated and volatile as the mid-term elections near, so this sort of rhetoric will only get louder. Instead of getting angryand hollering back I’m adopting the mentality of so many of my friends, which is to let the crazy spill forth and roll like proverbial water off a duck’s back. The only truly beneficial thing I can do is move forward, following my own moral compass, ensuring I am as educated as possible on the issues affecting our country and let these people scream and carry on until the crazy overpowers and defeats them, whether in the form of Sarah Palin as a presidential nominee or a slow burn over something else. I used to think maybe we’d all end up, eventually, on the same page – that we would all agree to read the same book and discuss it like reasonable adults. One thing Saturday’s rally proved – that’s not going to happen …we couldn’t be farther away from each other in the book store if we tried.