At the height of the George W. Bush years, a bit of a TomDispatch piece would sometimes be reposted at a right-wing website with a disparaging comment, and I'd suddenly be deluged with abusive emails (many homophobic) that regularly advised me to take my whatever and get out of Dodge. Though I was born in New York City, as was my father (my mother's hometown was Chicago), the phrase invariably brought to bear was "go back to..." and the only question was where. There were small numbers of correspondents who insisted I should "go back to Russia" or even the Soviet Union (as if that imperial entity hadn't imploded in 1991), but that rang a tad hollow in early 2003. So often, the country of choice was France (not exactly the worst place on Earth to be sent back to, by the way, if you value your morning croissant). In those days, as you may remember, France (like Germany) had refused to support the Bush administration in its glorious upcoming invasion of Iraq and so French fries in the House of Representatives' cafeteria had been renamed "freedom fries" and French toast "freedom toast." At the time, the French were sometimes referred to derisively as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," and the French-German opposition to Iraq labeled (in imitation of Bush's "axis of evil" for Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) "axis of weasel."
I still remember how viscerally I reacted to those angry emails urging me to leave this country of mine. In those days, I remember saying privately to friends that, if "nationalist" hadn't been a curse word here (at the time, we Americans were invariably "patriots" or "superpatriots" and only foreigners were "nationalists" or "ultra-nationalists"), I would have called myself an American nationalist. Given the surprising way that phrase has entered our vocabulary in the age of Trump, I'd have to find another phrase today, but the essence of it was simple enough. This was my country. I had grown up dreaming of serving it. No matter what it did, or how I felt it betrayed me (or my idea of it), I considered it then -- and consider it now -- my responsibility and I simply couldn't imagine being anywhere else. Thirteen years later, with panicked or disgusted progressives talking about heading for New Zealand or Canada, nothing has changed for me on that score.
TomDispatch remains the way I've translated that youthful urge to serve my country into my adult life. I may "serve" in an oppositional fashion, but in my mind at least, service it is. Whatever its faults, problems, or nightmares, I'm no more willing to give my country up to Donald Trump than I was to hand it over to George W. Bush, or in the Vietnam era, to Richard Nixon. This has never seemed like a choice to me, not in the Nixon era, not in the Bush one, and not in the creepy Mar-a-Lago moment we're now entering. And in this, I don't think I will find myself alone. In fact, today, I find myself in the good company of TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, who has taken the time to consider our situation and raise a question that must be asked: What country is it that we actually want to live in? Tom
What Is a Country For?
Fighting for the Good Life in Trumplandia
By Rebecca Gordon
Many of the folks I know are getting ready to play serious defense in 2017, and they're not wrong. Before we take up our three-point stance on the national line of scrimmage, however, maybe we should ask ourselves not only what we're fighting against , but what we're fighting for . What kind of United States of America do we actually want? Maybe, in fact, we could start by asking: What is a country for? What should a country do? Why do people establish countries in the first place?
There is, without question, much that will need defending over the next four years, so much that people fought and died for in the twentieth century, so much that is threatened by the ascendancy of Donald Trump, the white nationalist right, and the Republican Party.
The twentieth century saw the introduction of many significant laws, regulations, and -- yes -- entitlements: benefits to which we have a right by virtue of living in, and in many cases being citizens of, this country.
We could start earlier, but let's begin with the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. It established the right of workers to collectively negotiate wages and working conditions with their employers and made collective bargaining the official "policy of the United States."
This policy faces an immediate threat. Identical Republican-sponsored bills in the House and Senate would end the right of unions to require the workers they represent to pay union dues. These bills would, in other words, reproduce at the federal level the so-called right-to-work (more accurately, right-to-starve) laws already in place in more than half the states. If -- or as seems likely, when -- they pass, millions of workers will face the potential loss of the power of collective bargaining and find themselves negotiating with employers as lonely individuals.
Then there was the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which guaranteed a minimum wage and overtime pay to many workers (although not, notably, those laboring in agricultural fields or inside other people's homes -- workplaces then occupied primarily by African Americans, and later by other people of color as well).
Andrew F. Puzder, Donald Trump's pick for secretary of labor, opposes the very idea of a minimum wage. This shouldn't be too surprising, since his current day job is as CEO of the parent company of two fast-food franchise operations, Hardee's and Carl's Jr.
We could mention other New Deal era victories under threat: Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (now known as TANF for Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or more commonly simply as "welfare"), which was created to promote the wellbeing of children in families facing poverty. In the coming Trump years, we can expect predation on all these programs -- from renewed efforts to "privatize" Social Security to further restrictions on welfare. Indeed, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Trump's transition team point man on Social Security, is a firm believer in "privatization," the idea that the federal government should encourage people to gamble on the stock market rather than rely on a guaranteed government pension.
The one entitlement program that will probably survive unscathed is SNAP, because its primary beneficiaries are not the people who use it to buy groceries but the giant agricultural corporations it indirectly subsidizes. It's no accident that, unlike other entitlement programs, SNAP is administered by the Department of Agriculture.
Then there was the 1937 Housing Act, designed to provide financial support to cities so they could improve the housing stock of poor people, which eventually led to the creation of the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In Ben Carson we are about to have a HUD secretary who, in addition to having announced that he's not qualified to head a federal agency, doesn't believe in the very programs HUD exists to support.