Scene: Kennedy-era Post Office in Tacoma, Washington. An overcast, cool day. People stand in line, shuffling through envelopes tangled with rubber bands and loopy writing. I am preparing a small mailing to a friend.
Everything sifts out and I lift my eyes. An old man stands in front of me in the line, alert, a little smile on his lips. He wears a maroon plaid shirt, has a little band-aid on his smooth left cheek, his teeth are slightly yellowed but very clean. His waist is neatly cinched with a belt, and his wisps of hair are combed neatly back.
I engage him; he is eager to talk:
I’m obsessive-compulsive; now that I’m retired, I have such a hard time walking away from a project. By the time I finish, it’s dark! And the day is over. I don’t get much sleep.
With all due respect to you, young man, this country is sliding down the tubes. It’s socialism! People talk about democracy, when what they mean is Marxism. It reminds me of what Stalin used to say — you give the people bread, and they stop asking questions.
No one reads the Constitution. It is a piece of parchment, written by men with virtue. But this country is being sold out by traitors! And no one knows what is important anymore. I mean, does it really matter if the Mariners win?
We don’t produce anything anymore, and now we do trade with those Chinese sons-of-bitches!
This new guy, Obama, he’s a Marxist! And as far as the race thing goes, he’s not completely one of them, so it could be even worse.
The UN is a den of thieves. We are this far away from having Russian troops moving around with impunity inside our borders.
I saw this coming back in 1935. I never liked FDR — he was a real son-of-a-bitch, and the other one — what was his name? — Harry. Truman. Neither one of those guys would stand up to Stalin. They were in bed with the guy! This whole setup goes back to the end of the war.
Do you go to school here? Yeah? I used to, but then I took a statistics class, and a microbiology, and it got my head all turned around. I had to transfer to St. Martin’s. I was no crackerjack student there, but I tell you something, my history and economics teachers? They were all socialists! I had one who talked about “the glories of Yugoslavia,” and I just did not agree. So I went to talk to one of the priests and I got that socialist son-of-a-bitch fired.
I don’t expect you to agree with everything I say. It’s just that I have a lot of frustration about what’s happening, and sometimes I have to let it out. My daughter, well, my granddaughter is an atheist, and that’s something she is just going to have to work out.
Great to meet you. Why don’t you call me sometime? How do I say your last name? Cathcart? OK, Cathcart. Take care of yourself.
I’m surprised this guy was so open to talk like this with someone standing in line at the post office. This guy is as bad the random people I would meet overseas who would hear my American accent and start complaining about Bush.
GI, what can I say? I am just a wonderful listener… and in spite of his frustration, he was a very sweet person. People like me without grandparents are especially vulnerable to such discussions.
More to the point, this kind of discussion on similar themes (U.S. turning toward fascism) is becoming increasingly normalized. According to MSNBC polling data, 10% of Americans think Obama is the Antichrist, vs. 8% for Bush during his presidency.
Which reminds me! I forgot to mention he culminated (well, everything was slightly a propos of nothing) by saying “Obama is the classic antichrist!” and shaking his finger.
I did not take this as some reference to Nietzsche’s immortal opus, but instead to some hashed-up Revelation.
In general, it connected for me that, in spite of Obama’s false insistence on a “new beginning,” what is going on in the United States is simply the continuation of a very old struggle with various roots. I mean, this fellow was still seriously upset about the direction of the New Deal, and he was, in the Acheson phrase, “present at the creation.”
I also got a nice whiff of Harry Truman’s dilemma in fighting the Korean War — no matter how many Americans he sacrificed, no matter that he threatened on November 30 1950 to nuke China while the PRC made its one and only tirade at the UN at Lake Success, people like my Post Office friend were always going to see him as a pro-communist traitor.
Score up another victory, I suppose, for the forces of continuity over rapid and irrevocable change.
From my hometown newspaper:
Still can’t quite tell if it is sarcasm or a genuine nut case.
克明, I would assume it’s the real deal. And don’t forget that Roosevelt was pro-China! It’s only a matter of time before Repubs attack Obama for kowtowing to the Middle Kingdom (since Hu is more important than King Saud at the end of the day). Last night on Fox William Bennett, he hammered Obama for “asking the Chinese first for permission to meet with the Dalai Lama,” which sounded pretty funny to me. Make sure to check JustRecently’s blog for more enlightening discussion of the Xinjiang/Xizang nexus.