Home National Politics An Ugly Intrusion of Republicanness into My 50th High School Reunion

An Ugly Intrusion of Republicanness into My 50th High School Reunion

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The main event of our Reunion was a big banquet, which consisted mostly of wonderful schmooze time and dining time. Then came the program time, which I found less wonderful because of what our MC threw in.

The MC was our class president. He’d been our class’s most outstanding athlete, and he stood out also back in the day for driving a fancy Chrysler 300 to school. He has a reputation for being a pretty good guy.  And he’s also a Republican.

That Republican bit should be irrelevant.  Had I been the MC, it surely would have been irrelevant to the job I’d have done that I’ve spent my last nine years alarmed and disgusted by what the Republican Party has become.  I’d have figured that that had nothing to do with what brought us classmates together, a half century after graduation.  I’d have thought it contrary to our feel-good purposes to intrude any views of mine on matters that divide us.

But as it turned out, it wasn’t irrelevant.  For whatever reason, our star quarterback thought himself entitled to compel us all to join him in his brand of patriotism. It’s a brand I recognize, and it’s not one I like.

He did it in three distinct moves, over about a fifteen minute period, mixed in with thanks to the rest of the reunion committee, a bit of reminiscence, and a series of jokes (with a misogynistic theme running through them).

The first move was to make the declaration, with no particular context, that “we live in the greatest country in the history of the world.”  It’s a statement that was truer the day we marched out of the gymnasium to “Pomp and Circumstance” than it is now. But one then less frequently announced.  

Since then, while we continue to lead the world in military spending and power, and have surged to a lead in percentage of our people behind bars, our nation has fallen well back in the standings in various measures of human well-being-like in health, life expectancy, infant mortality, educational achievement, and social mobility.

The kicker is this:  the same Republican force that’s pumped up the “We’re # 1” mentality has been key to making our country notably less great by the values both of our founders and our religious traditions.

Our class president’s remark connected into all that chest-thumping, jingoistic sense of national superiority that our most recent Republican president used in order to get and maintain support for the kinds of aggressive American policies that made our traditional friends abroad fear and distrust us.

His next move, a while later, was to ask for all our classmates who’d served in the American armed forces to stand up and to tell the rest of us to applaud them.  I appreciate people’s service in the military, and I know that some of these guys from the class of ’63 put their lives on the line forty-some years ago.  But did this gesture toward the military have a place in our event?  

And, so many years later, and with people now at the age of retirement from long careers, is the service and sacrifice of soldiers the only kind worthy of appreciation?  

What about the teachers in the room, who worked long hours for not much pay out of devotion to their students?  And doctors and nurses, working hard to cure the sick?  And what about my friend Marv, sitting at our table, who’d brought integrity and sagacity to a domain of the law, helping thereby to make our society a bit more just and more sane?  

This extraneous call for us to applaud our soldiers, and only our soldiers, also rang a familiar note:  the militarization of virtue, promoted by that same Republican presidency, as a way of making our raw power the definition of our national greatness, as well as putting the misguided wars of choice beyond challenge by tying them to “our heroes” in uniform.  

Finally, as our MC was about to wrap things up, he called upon us all to stand and recite — as I do not recall our doing during our years together in high school – the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the flag.  I used to have fond feelings for the American flag, but in our times it’s become so completely connected with the kind of patriotism that’s been called “the last refuge of scoundrels” that it’ll be quite a while before I can see it again as standing for the Republic that offers “liberty and justice for all.”  

As a candidate for Congress, I refused to be one of those politicians who have been intimidated by this ugly form of patriotism into wearing a flag pin, or using the flag in my campaign hand-outs.  I preferred to talk about the values that animated our Founders.  Not the tarnished symbol, but the living substance.

Any one of these gestures, I might have overlooked.  But together, they form a pattern.  At some level our master of ceremonies must have known that he was pushing onto all of us a position on a matter of political controversy in our country. This pattern, after all, takes clear sides in what was one of the chief recent political battle lines in America.

This is a pattern we’ve seen before at important moments of the history of the past century:  the sense of superiority, the militarism, and the idolatry over the flag.  We’ve seen it in our own recent history, and we’ve seen it in chapters of the history of other nations.

They are always dark chapters.

Our reunion did not need that ugly bit of contemporary Republicanness intruding into our event.

  • glennbear

    Since I moved to Dixie 6 years ago I have had a real problem with MC’s foisting there personal beliefs on assembled people. In particular every gathering has religion dragged into it, a recent example was an MC led prayer at a meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce for the reopening of a refurbished theater. I happen to believe in a supreme being but do not foist my beliefs on others.

  • fendertweed

    Your Prez is a well-intentioned, narrow-minded and somewhat ignorant fool, as you allude to.

    It would have been tempting to me (given that I’m used to and trained to speak in public settings) to follow up his military salute by rising and loudly saying “Excuse me, Biff, but I think we should also recognize everyone here who was a public school teacher or a public servant in any capacity.”

    And watch his gears freeze & sputter … ;-o

  • Andy Schmookler

    On Daily Kos, this same piece elicited a comment asking “Did anyone stand up to this asshole?”

    To that question, I replied in this way:

    I was never close with this fellow, but we played football together for three years, and shared cafeteria time and so forth.  Over the years, we’ve exchanged brief pleasantries at reunions.  Also, I have it from other people that he’s generally a decent fellow.

    So I do not see what happened here as necessarily indicative of something deep and core about who he is.  

    It’s part of who he is, of course. But I’m more inclined to see this as being a kind of module that’s been inserted into his personality.

    I speculate that it’s a place where a degree of arrogance and ambition in the young man evolved into something that could be exploited.  When we were in school, he worked very hard to fulfill his ambition to be a big winner as an athlete.  I further speculate that that part of him might have gotten bruised a bit when he found, as a grown man, that he could not maintain that status he enjoyed in high school as the all-conference star player in three of the biggest sports.  And then came the political force to which he gave his allegiance to exploit that part for its purposes.

    (I’ve studied what happened in Germany in the years from, say, 1918 through 1945, and one can see these kinds of moldings of modules to bring what were apparently good people into service of a power whose spirit was anything but good.)

    In the case of today’s Republican rank and file — the people who get their news from Fox News, or from Limbaugh — the vulnerable parts of them have been hijacked and exploited.  They’ve been taught to bring some of the worst parts of themselves into the political realm. they now operate in the political world from their worst selves.

    I say “political world” because in the rest of the world they can be the nicest, most decent folks you meet.

    That’s the nature of the module.  When they enter a particular space, they adopt the self that was entrained by the manipulative force.

    Up there with a microphone, as I imagine it, this basically decent fellow just naturally, conceivably even reflexively, allowed this module to kick in.

    The Manchurian Candidate is but an extreme version of what happens all the time to people in social universes dominated by manipulators.

     

  • Your class graduated just months before Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. If the MC was going to speak about ANYTHING political, that should have been it (although this guy probably would have gone into a Pat Robertson-style rant about “white on black violence” or god knows what).  But nooooo…

  • DJRippert

    I am surprised that these comments bother you so much.

    1. Every country says they are the greatest (or something to that effect).  It’s Viva Espania, Deutschland uber alles, etc.  Even Barack Obama once said, “…objectively, when you look at where we are right now, we are poised for a 21st century that is as much the American century as the 20th century was.”

    2. Thanking the military is more of a payback for the horribly bad treatment returning Vietnam Era GIs got in America than anything else.  People weren’t spitting on teachers and firemen after they served their country.

    3. The Pledge of Allegiance was a bit juvenile although it’s hard to see any evil intent.

    I went to a Washington Capitals hockey game once.  They were playing Vancouver (as I recall) and the Caps won in overtime.  The crowd at the Verizon Center was madly chanting U – S – A at the end of the game and even out on the street.  I don’t think there was a single American playing for the Capitals that night.  They should have been singing O Canada or the Russian National Anthem.  However, I didn’t get mad at the crowd.  I didn’t see it as some sinister Republican plot to discredit the Canadians, Russians, Swedes and other who actually make up the Washington Capitals’ roster.

    There are a lot of good reasons to get upset at some of the things being said in America these days.  I am not sure that this fellow’s comments warrant much in the way of ire.