Monday was Labor Day in America, not Memorial or Veteran’s Day, but on my bike ride this morning I saw flag after flag flying from pillar to post on single-family homes. Why?
Since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States (POTUS, an acronym that now sounds disturbingly onomatopoetic), you hear ad nauseum in America: “This is not who we are.” That’s a lie, and this scourge won’t end until enough Americans face the truth that this is what we have become.
Though most Americans haven’t gone bad, the vast majority have given up the ghost, quit on humanity and on life. The death of the nation’s soul occurred over 25 years ago, and opened the door to the idiocy of Bush-Cheney, and then, after the wasted interregnum of Barack Obama, to the bottomless darkness of Trump and his dreadful mob.
Writing about Trump’s trampling on this nation’s norms and institutions has grown boring and wearisome however. The issue is not America, since the context is no longer this or any other nation-state.
Then what is the context now? Tucked between news of the latest tweetstorms from the bone-spur coward of a Commander-in-Chief was a disturbing article about the reaction of America-Firsters to a movie about Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon.
Demented right-wingers are apoplectic about the film, “First Man,” which depicts the 1969 mission “to land men on the moon and return them safely to earth,” in the words of John F. Kennedy.
Why? Because “the film does not show Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin unfurling and planting an American flag on the lunar surface.”
The film’s director, Damien Chazelle, was timidly diplomatic: “I wanted the primary focus in that scene to be on Neil’s solitary moments on the moon — his point of view as he first exited the Lunar Module, his time spent at Little West Crater, the memories that may have crossed his mind during his lunar exploration.”
In truth, we must boldly confront the stupidity and atavism that forms foundation of Trumpian xenophobia, we will all succumb to it.
Ted Cruz, the oleaginous senator from Texas who Trump trashed in the Republican primaries and is now in an unexpectedly tight reelection race, tweeted: “Really sad: Hollywood erases American flag from moon landing. This is wrong, and consistent with Leftists’ disrespecting the flag & denying American exceptionalism.”
What’s egregiously wrong and sickeningly sad is that revisionist throwbacks such as Trump and Cruz are appealing to tribal instincts in an irrefutably global village, destroying the international order rather building on it, and paving the way for war.
Fifty years on, and nothing says how far America has degenerated than this hullabaloo over what rational people saw as an absurdity at the time—planting and saluting one nation’s colored cloth on the moon.
As his sons attest, Armstrong didn’t want to do so. But as a military man, he “let other, wiser minds than mine make those kinds of decisions,” and stuck the $5.50 Sears flag in the lunar soil. (Aldrin told controllers he saw the flag knocked over with a blast of spacecraft exhaust, NASA has said.)
So was the moment humans first stepped on the moon a human achievement or an American one? The very fact that one even has to ask that question proves that civilizational progress is an illusion and has little to do with scientific and technological advancement, and that society can degenerate much more easily than advance psychologically and emotionally.
As their small, ugly man in the White House attests, it’s Republicans who have run amok, milking the dumbed-down ignorance of 40% of Americans and the numbed-out indifference of another 40% to run roughshod over what was left of American decency and common sense.
American greatness, to whatever extent it existed, cannot be recovered and recaptured by kneeling (or standing) before an idolized symbol of nationalistic tribalism.
In the de facto global society, we can and must look beyond silly borders and small shores, and see ourselves first as human beings, not debased flag-wavers.
As one of the few columnists that predicted Trump would win, I have another queasy feeling I can’t shake. When Trump is finally and fully cornered, he’ll do the only thing left a rogue POTUS can do: start a war.
Even so, as the 6th century BC Chinese author of “The Art of War,” Sun-Tzu wrote, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” Enough global citizens have to be prepared to seize it however.
The nation-state is dead; long live humanity.