Oh Such a Happy America
The stranger in the lawn chair kicked back his feet, nodded at my "Impeach Clinton" bumper sticker and drawled, "I'm hopin' for an assassination, myself."
I tossed off my standard reply:
and proceeded to check into the little motel beside the brook, way up in the peaceful green mountains.
It only dawned on me later, with some shock, that I have a standard reply to strangers who publicly wish the president dead. I've used it on store clerks and dog-walkers and road-beaten travelers at the counters of forgettable truck stops. I've used it perhaps a dozen times, as complete strangers have responded to my political tee-shirts or bumper stickers with out-of-the-blue death wishes. Usually, their disaffection is directed at Clinton. Sometimes it's merely directed at "them" -- those vague, unidentified, but bitterly hated government masters.
"I hope somebody kills him." "I got my hangin' rope ready." "Why hasn't it started yet? I'm not puttin' up with this much longer."
When, I wonder, did strangers start saying things like this to each other? The day John Kennedy was shot, the most shocking thing seemed to be, "This doesn't happen in America. Some foreign country, yes. But not here." Even in the worst of the Nixon years -- years when I wore plenty of tee-shirts just like the ones I wear today and sported plenty of defiant bumper stickers -- I never once heard anyone wish for the death of that vile would-be Emperor of America. Or wish for the death of any other politician or bureaucrat.
But now, the words come so often I have a canned reply. A canned reply. The words come from people who don't even know my name, who haven't talked with me more than a minute or two -- and who don't care who hears them. Mostly, these people don't even bother to sound angry. They sound matter of fact. Resigned, even. But not resigned to the status quo.
Meanwhile, the polls go on telling that the public approves of Mr. Clinton and his works. The articles on the financial page go on assuring that we're prosperous, employed and happy, on a grand, national roll. The newscasters go on reporting that all we want from government is another fix for Social Security and Medicare, a little more law and order, more services, no more taxes. A little nip here, a little tuck there and the government will be just as fine as the economy. Everything is good in Our Happy Land.
Some days I envision the polls and articles to be the product of some eternally churning Stalinist propaganda factory. Out pours a sweetly scented salve to smooth over a national gangrene.
Some days I actually believe every word from the polls and the articles and the nice, well-groomed broadcasters. Perhaps there is another America out there -- east of the Appalachians, west of the Sierras, beyond the rainbow -- that's very different from the America where I live.
The other America is a happy land, filled with happy people, who love their happy lives and the smiling president who wants only to take nice, happy care of them. They shop happily at the pleasant mall, grateful to have money flowing into and out of their soft, well-scrubbed fingers.
They are happy in their jobs, even when their companies merge and merge and merge and downsize them. Happy in their homes, which are never illegally searched or seized. They are happy with their banks. Happy to pay their Fair Share of taxes. Happy to live under kindly regulations and just laws. Happy to register with the latest database, and happy to fill out the latest form or submit to the latest ID requirement, knowing all these are gifts from their loving and wise leaders. They are happy to deliver their children to the nice day-care centers and to know that the government will provide their happy little ones with a well-planned, healthy lunch and proper social skills for their development. All is well in their happy land. The polls say so, and the polls are true.
How surprised these contented Americans might be, one day, when they drive their happy little Lexuses and their happy little motorhomes over the mountains, bound, with pockets full of spending cash, for Yellowstone or Glacier, the Grand Canyon or Rushmore, Dinosaur Monument or the wonders of Wall, South Dakota -- to find a foreign America in bitter conflict with theirs.