Original Sources

Harry Drabik

I’m feeling worn out by political observation claiming to be helpful while it tears things down and apart. As a new form of nation the US didn’t say it was perfect. It set up as an experimental form of representative democracy. Its stumbles and governmental mistakes occur in a multi-party system which includes checks and balances. American democracy has a history of admitting problems and attempting to fix or redress them. If you or I as individuals are that thoughtful and conscientious we can feel OK not as perfected beings but as people in the process of trying to understand and do what’s right.  

I personally had no problem with electing a non-Caucasian for a first and second term as our President. I wasn’t bothered to see a woman seek the office. I’d have accepted her victory, though frankly I’d have preferred if she wasn’t the wife of a former leader as happens in third-world nations where the spouse of a former junta leader is voted in to lead a tottering republic. The US as a nation can and has adjusted to times and circumstances. A non-political review of the past shows the nation struggle with oversize issues that test its fortitude and faith in itself. Viewing past and present in stark black and white leads in one general direction. Looking around with a view to understand what has and is occurring is simply not the same as issuing black and white judgments.  

A reasonable (as an old school JFK type liberal this appeals to me) person I prefer considering over shouting. Yelling your prejudgments of others is neither an especially enlightened or helpful approach. Yelling says anger. If someone is angry I can’t fix that for them. Only they can, and only if they want to and try. Angry views, however, a generally happier if they’re allowed to go on venting. Rage is its own home brew narcotic after all. Whether extreme sport or substance use a good many of us crave a kick of some sort. Hostile anger is just one of the ways a being can fill its system with induced glory.  

But, back to reason. If the US is the failed racist, intolerant, supremacist and etc. nation we’re so often told it is we should easily be able to spot this vileness and hatred in its cultural icons. Let’s begin with an early one: The Star Spangled Banner. Does our national anthem glorify victor over vanquished? No, F. Scott Key was a prisoner when he wrote the words expressing his feelings of survival at “dawn’s early light.” If that sets a race hating, female denigrating, supremacist view I’d like someone to explain it.  

Let’s not look so far back. If we look a lot closer in time at some cultural icons maybe we’ll spot the illness lurking there just below the surface. I’ll use a couple of musicals as example. I’m not a fan of that art, but I’ll try to be objective in selecting South Pacific and Sound of Music. Both of these were popular and widely appreciated in American popular culture. Hidden in those examples the bigger racist, supremacist demon should be something we can identify. Recalling the title song lyrics go something like this; “the hills are alive with the sound of music, songs they have sung for a thousand years.” If there’s an evil agenda lurking there I don’t see it. Do you? Even if we are suspicious of hills being snow covered white in winter they’re going to be green in summer. Not much racist fuel there. Could the poisonous evil be hidden in a “lark that is learning to sing” or in the Trapp family fleeing Nazism (they came to the US)? Wait a minute. They hid for a while in a convent, so maybe the purer than pure find that the offensive element able to damn the whole. I don’t know what others see of think, but it’s difficult for me to see much of any ill intent toward anyone is that story or musical. And I’d say even less so if I take in consideration the affiliations of the musical authors.  

South Pacific might be a better candidate for being set in wartime where it could be claimed the US was actually attempting to expand its empire. That’s an interesting but difficult argument seeing how “conquered” Japan did not lose its identity and become incorporated into the US. If I’m recalling correctly the musical includes the dirty laundry of a race/class conflict and features a major song about hatred sung by a non-Caucasian female. If you’re an individual or a nation being aware of and working on your shortcomings is a whole lot more constructive than being told how awful you are for not being better. The difference in attitude is the same as people going to church because they are not perfect and others calling them hypocrites for exactly that reason. Attitude and behavior hold hands. Thinking ill of others may say more about ourselves.  

I have a personal original source for the vision of America I was exposed to as a child. My Book House was a major child development series done in the late thirties edited by Olive Miller. For now we are safe to set aside the possibility Olive was a male supremacist. Olive’s well done series begins with a Parent’s Guide setting an overall goal of guidance and enrichment. Written for the US audience it is, of course, in English. The first book, 200+ pages, is Nursery Rhymes numbering into the thousands. Going down the Index there are male (Morley, Shakespeare, R. Browning) and female (Lucy Mitchell, Elizabeth Browning, Dorothy Baruch) authors. Well-known male writers are more numerous, a possibly damning indictment of Olive’s tastes or sympathies. But is Olive’s promotion of culture and values for the very young a one-sided elevation of one group. Again the Index is useful noting rhyme sources: German, American, Czechoslovakia, French, Norse, Pueblo, and Dutch rhymes are identified on the first page. If you look at My Book House as evidence you need to be a better seer than me to find pernicious and vile inclinations.