I just watched the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors for Brian Wilson. For reasons that are easy to guess — his life story, his genius, his music — I am sobbing. For other things, too: for him, for us; in gratitude, in fear.
A decade later, neither the country nor the world look anything like they did even in the nadir of the Bush administration.
Honoring Brian, Art Garfunkel said: “I love rock and roll. It’s just so joyous and life affirming. And this is a great moment for me to honor my colleague, a fountainhead of that joy, Brian Wilson. To me, rock and roll is our great American invention. And the fact that you, Brian, are one of its architects makes me proud of who we are as a country.” Garfunkel talked about Brian’s “California roots, which to me, always represented the kindness and sweetness of America.” He called Brian Wilson “rock music’s gentlest revolutionary.”
A few days ago, I read a brilliant piece by writer Gerald Weaver about Donald Trump and the failure of language.
Our innocence, our sweetness, the basic goodness of the premise for this country is the promise of a nation held together not by blood or iron but by consensus on revolutionary claims about the dignity of all people.
I’m not stupid. I know we have never actually lived up to those ideals. For centuries, we have systemically disenfranchised our own people. For decades, we have instigated proxy wars. For decades, we have have encouraged every kind of inequality.
But we’ve also held onto hope. We’ve also given a damn about what America is supposed to be and mean.
Condemning the tear gassing of assylum-seaking migrants at the southern border this week, Beto O’Rourke said, “It should tell us something about her home country that a mother is willing to travel 2,000 miles with her 4-month-old son to come here. It should tell us something about our country that we only respond to this desperate need once she is at our border. So far, in this administration, that response has included taking kids from their parents, locking them up in cages, and now tear gassing them at the border.”
Now the news that Donald Trump is authorizing lethal force.
I think I was four when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault. He opened something else on Fox News’ The Five (I do not watch it).
“This tear gas choked me. We treat these people — these economic refugees — as if they’re zombies from ‘The Walking Dead.’ We arrested 42 people; eight of them were women with children. We have to deal with this problem humanely and with compassion. These are not invaders. Stop using these military analogies. This is absolutely painful to watch…We are a nation of immigrants. These are desperate people. They walked 2,000 miles. Why? Because they want to rape your daughter or steal your lunch? No. Because they want a job! . . . We suspend our humanity when it comes to this issue. And I fear that it is because they look different than the mainstream.”
Of course Greg Gutfeld cut him off when he pointed out that economic refugees are in many cases fleeing situations our own policies have helped create. Of course Jesse Waters, Fox’s Chief of Smarm, looked exasperated.
Of course, tonight, I’m crying over Art Garfunkel and Brian Wilson and America.