Overreacting, for fun and profit

Okay, so a particularly silly (but still dangerous) Presidential candidate spoke in an extraordinarily silly (but still dangerous) manner regarding Muslims, and America, and the war on terror. And my newsfeed was clogged with expressions of alarm and anger and fear. Donald Trump proposed that Muslims should be banned from entering the United States, including Muslims who have traveled abroad and are returning home. Of course, Mr. Trump is not known for thoughtful, researched policy proposals; he seems to pull them from the nether regions of anatomy, then defend them with his customary ferocity. But, yeah, that was what he said.

So what would this mean? Shaquille O’Neill is a Muslim-American, and plans to perform the hajj–the pilgrimage to Mecca, required of all healthy adult Muslims–perhaps as early as this summer. Is the intention to stop Shaq at the airport? The journalist Fareed Zakaria is a Muslim-American; is the plan to wreck his career by forbidding him to come home to his wife and kids after traveling for his job? What about Dave Chappelle? Or Ellen Burstyn? Or Ice Cube? They’re all Muslim, you know. Muhammed Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are getting older these days, but may want to travel. Gonna tell Kareem he can’t get on a plane? Ridiculous.

“O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.”

–Langston Hughes

The whole thing’s ridiculous. Ridiculous and unworkable and foolish. And what’s scary isn’t that the Donald says nonsensically brutal things, but that crowds at his events cheer wildly when he does. People are scared, and people are angry. It doesn’t make sense for them to be scared and angry–we live in a prosperous nation, a culture defined by cell phones and where music and art and delicious foods are routinely available. Homes where you can program your DVR with a tablet, a society where we can, routinely, dial a number and get chocolate chip cookies delivered. Our prosperity is unimaginable, the luxury of our lives, beyond compare. But no, we’re scared precisely because terrrorist incidents are rare to the point of invisibility, and yet also ubiquitously visible. Everything’s on TV all the time everywhere. And everyone wants Daddy Obama to do something. So he spoke on national TV and carefully explained precisely what his administration is doing. All of which is reasonable and comprehensive and smart. And got called a ‘pussy’ by a commentator on Fox. Yeah; the natives are restless.

But it’s all overreaction, all fear-driven paranoia. Our country is not at risk. We’re not in a clash of civilizations with the forces of radical Islam. None of that is remotely true. We live in a world where the idea of Amazon delivering our Christmas packages using remote controlled drones seems so possible, it’s the subject of a comical TV commercial. We’re rich. We’re free. Seriously, folks, we’re fine. It’s not that we’re going to win the war on terror. It’s that we’ve already won it.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

Martin Luther King

News is news because it’s remarkable, unusual, way out of the ordinary. The San Bernardino attack attracted tremendous attention in part because it took place under the most mundane of circumstances. A couple dropped off their baby at grandma’s house, so they could attend a Christmas party at the place where the husband worked. The place where his co-workers had previously thrown them a baby shower. Normal, everyday stuff. And then the couple showed up in military gear, pulled out military weapons, and opened fire.

Of course it was news. Of course it was. It couldn’t have been more bizarre. But that’s all it was. A weird, random event. And, of course, it’s horrible. And emotions crowd in: compassion, fear, anger. Curiosity. An atavistic desire for revenge. Unreason. For some: prejudice. We don’t have an outlet for those emotions, so they’re amplified. We could just play Call of Duty or something, work things out that way. Or we could listen to The Donald. Even though, in our hearts, we know the speaker’s a buffoon.

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes”When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocricy.

Abraham Lincoln

But none of that, not Trump or San Bernardino or Paris, none of it is actually important. Somehow one particular couple became self-radicalized. Probably some measure of resentment and anger over some workplace slight was part of the mix for the husband, for both of them. And the preposterous, unworkable, 7th century ideology of Isis, which feeds on the resentment of marginalized people, led to a furious toxicity. For two people.

And so Mr. Trump and his followers think the answer is to increase Muslim marginalization? To further import it? Really?

So what should we do?

Your Christmas shopping. Toss an extra buck into the kettle, and when the cashier at Macey’s asks if you want to donate to the Food Bank, say, ‘sure. Five bucks.’ For heaven’s sake, get some perspective.

And if you know Muslims, if you have Muslim friends and neighbors (and you almost certainly do), or if you’re on a bus or train or subway and see someone wearing hijab, smile. If you want to, say ‘as-salamu alaykum.’ Peace be upon you. Right now, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens are being targeted, not by our government (yet), but by a ridiculous egomaniac. He’s not important; our civic peace is what matters.

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

–Woody Guthrie

What won’t work is overreacting. What won’t work is trying somehow to prevent, for everyone everywhere, random weird lethal stuff from happening, ever. We’re okay. We’re more than okay.

Just don’t vote for Trump. That really would be the apocalypse.

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