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The Ultimate, Hidden Truth of the World
Is that it is something that we make....
I was driving west on Broadway from downtown Missoula this past Thursday, January 6th, the first anniversary of Trump’s Pathetic Revolution. There was a small group of people assembled at the front of the courthouse with more arriving. I saw at least one American flag held aloft; there may have been two. I didn’t see any signs or slogans. I had no clue what they were showing up for and it could have been anything. Was it a group of Trump Patriots gathering in celebration of what they—and the elected officials who enable them—got away with in a fashion that only a mob of white people ever could? Or were they citizens out to support “our democracy” in the face of those other chuckleheads? Either way I have mixed feelings. What does our flag even represent? What do you think when you see the old red, white and blue?
I don’t know if it’s still there because COVID has closed it for two years, but I remember walking through the front door of the Little Shell cultural center for the first time and seeing the big American flag hanging above the inner door. My first thought was, “What the hell is that doing there?” My sense was why should we be showing respect for this country that has never shown any to us? That first impression, in the early days of my exploration of my Little Shell heritage, happened many years ago … but I still feel largely the same. The flag flies at all of our events. Like all tribes, we have many veterans enrolled with us, and we make a point to honor them. As we should. I don’t have a problem with veterans. I have a problem with the machine that chews them up, spits them out, and doesn’t take care of them.
I have zero sense of patriotism or nationalist pride when it comes to being a citizen of the United States. I had no more control of what country I was born into than I did the color of my hair or eyes. I don’t care any more or less for American lives than I do for the lives of people anywhere else, which means I care a lot. I used to have more loyalty to the state of Montana than I did the USA but that has changed too. My loyalty is to the world and to all my relatives that I share it with, both human and non-human. It is a loyalty that recognizes no borders. I truly love the world, and people are part of that world. How can I not love them?
At the same time, I have to live in the world that is, not the one I wish it was … though I can work toward that goal. That doesn’t mean I have to fly an American flag or even care about it. I fly my Little Shell flag because I want people to know about us, to know our story, because it’s important. So despite the relentless bickering and drama that makes everything so much harder than it has to be I advocate for the Little Shell, as I want to do a better job advocating for the wider world, despite all the bickering and drama everywhere else too.
So what does the flag mean to other people? I’d like to ask “what does it mean to the Left” but it doesn’t feel like this country has a Left.It certainly isn’t the Democrats, who flail along, at best, as moderate Republicans in the days before that party embraced fascism. The rank and file Democrats, generally educated and wealthy, are not really an opposition party. I’m not one to say the Republicans and Democrats are “the same” but they aren’t opposites on a coin either. More like adjacent faces of a twenty-sided die. The Republicans are a natural “1”—utter failure in all circumstances—while the Democrats are something like a “7”: in some circumstances, with luck, low stakes, and a lot of tacked-on buffs, they will succeed but will fail more often than not. No one ever rolled a 7 on a 20-sider and was immediately excited about it, trust me.
Both parties lean heavy on “The Market” and Wall Street and all things related to money and protecting the status quo that benefits them and their wealthy puppetmasters the most. It’s always about money and economy and never about serving people. There have been some gains from the Democrats, certainly. But an opposition party? Not really. These are the “wins” lately being touted by the current administration:
So what does the flag mean to you? Do you have pride for being an “American”? If so, why? Or do you feel the warm and fuzzies from the last election waning in the wake of being shown just how awful a job our country has done in taking care of its citizens, regardless of party? Which translates, ultimately, to how terrible of a job we have done in taking care of each other? We have the government we have allowed to happen. We have chosen this.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort or time commitment to get a handle on just how brutal a force for anything other than the interests of its own ruling class the United States actually is. Certainly less time than an evening binge-watching the latest television series, or even a single movie. Less of a commitment than a Zillow obsession. We are seeing it on full display, right now. Utter collapse truly feels imminent.
I contend that Democrats are weak in their convictions and addicted to much of the same convenience and tacit approval of the terrible things our leaders do in our name as the Right is. Otherwise, why do we let it happen? Where is the outrage when Biden signs a $770B defense bill, which both “the Senate and the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for”? It’s outrageous. Killing people abroad via the military; killing people domestically via lackluster pandemic response; and disrespecting teachers and other “essential” workers while consigning most of those folks to lives of poverty via an inhumane minimum wage are policies both parties happily embrace. If we really wanted to change any of these things we could because we wouldn’t let candidates off the hook. The Right certainly doesn’t let their people off the hook and their politics reflect that, and their efforts are driving all of us in their direction. When are we going to go as hard for the things we care about as they do?
There is no ambiguity on what the flag represents to the Right. They rally under all the worst elements of what the USA represents and it isn’t like they have to make them up either. I’d go so far as to say they are more in line with what this country is, and has always has been, than anyone else. The violence and bigotry and misgyny and all the other terrible things they rally to are deeply embedded in the fabric of this nation and always have been. The quiet parts out loud. It’s not the task of those of us who oppose those ideals to “go back” to something pre-Trump. It’s to make this country something it has never been. That is the challenge before us.
The scale of inequality we must confront defies reformism. The forces sucking wealth up to the top of the economy are now so powerful that they seem almost unstoppable. But, as David Graeber once wrote, ‘the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently’. This point is clearer than ever in the wake of a pandemic that has been defined not by the abstract economic forces of ‘the free market’ but by political interventions undertaken by states, powerful corporations and financial institutions.
We’ve known at least since the Obama years that the United States is an oligarchy yet we have done nothing to change that. It’s not too late. We can re-make the world. It requires deep soul-searching, and recommitting ourselves to our communities. It requires a long, hard look at the crumbling society around us. It means looking around ourselves and asking: is this what we want? Are television shows and two-day deliveries and all the gadgets and bullshit we feel entitled to more important than a livable world? The answer is easy for me. I find it more and more difficult to live in this hellish society. I’d love to be part of a community whose citizens look after one another. This one isn’t it.
But it could be.
As in Indian Country, people who align with the more radical Left that I subscribe to would rather fight among themselves than really be viable, and that leaves me even more depressed and unmotivated than the current state of the Democratic Party does.