“Is this a great country or what?”
My rabid right-wing brother-in-law Dolton had caught me off-guard, fantasizing as I’d been about George W. Bush invoking at his war crimes trial a variation of the “Larry Craig defense”: “I am not smart. I never have been smart.”
“That show we just watched,” Dolton continued, commenting on a just-concluded program on the Propaganda, er, History Channel extolling the glories of the Mexican-American War, harkening back to the days when the U.S. stole only half a country at a time, “reminds me of how lucky we are to live in a land with so much freedom and opportunity, thanks to all the sacrifices so many Americans have made.”
“You mean, like the Native and African ones?” I retorted, completely roused now from my reverie, which wasn’t working anyway: my imaginary Bush had just been acquitted by an astonished tribunal for actually having told the truth.
Dolt harrumphed. “Jeez, Mark, slaves and Indians again? Man, I am so sick of you bleeding hearts trying to make everyone feel guilty about historical-type stuff. Besides, if people don’t like it here, they should go back to where they’re from.”
Why oh why had I accepted my sister Apolitica’s invitation to spend the day together? Even five minutes with her husband made a lobotomy look desirable.
“I apologize for soiling the conversation with facts,” I said, “but to Native Americans — the remaining ones, that is — we’re the immigrants. As for slaves, not too many ‘opted in’ for the Middle Passage. Shocking, eh?”
That settled that.
Looking for a distraction (or a bottle of cyanide), I glanced over at my nephew, nine-year-old Dolton, Jr. He was glued to the tube, slack-jawed. This characteristic inactivity, coupled with an awful diet, had put “the little Dolt” on the fa(s)t track to soon being diminutive in nickname only.
Just then, Apolitica came in with a pair of five-gallon Big Gulps and a vat of Cheetos.
My eyes narrowed.
“What?” she protested guiltily. “They were on sale!”
“Lay off your sis, will ya, Mr. Everything’s-All-Toxic?” Dolton mocked.
“Fine,” I rejoined, “but don’t blame me when your son has a health emergency induced by corpulence.”
“Is that another leftist crack against our brave troops?” he snarled. “Why just corpulence? Why not lieutenants, or even generals, too?”
“Not corporals,” I replied wearily, “‘corpulence.’ Someone who is corpulent is overweight, like, for example, the thirty-two percent of Americans labeled obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Moments like these left me wondering why I couldn’t have been an only child.
Don’t misunderstand, I love my sister. And she’s not stupid (her acceptance of Dolton’s marriage proposal notwithstanding). But just like her husband and millions of other Americans, there’s no thinking involved. I wasn’t sure which was worse: Apolitica, who (intentionally) knew zilch about politics, or Dolton, who gladly offered his deeply held political beliefs — just as soon as he got them from Rush Limbaugh.
A hit piece on universal medical coverage, followed by a jingoistic U.S. Border Patrol segment, droned from the TV which, naturally, was tuned to Fox News. My brother-in-law, true to form, snorted about “socialists” and “wetbacks” undermining America.
I had a thought. “Dolt, considering your meager health insurance, what would you do if one of you did need medical attention?”
“Good question,” he snapped, “since all those illegal aliens you and your commie friends love so much are jammin’ up the emergency rooms. It’s bad enough they take all the jobs.”
Good ol’ Dolt: the human echo chamber for right-wing wedge issues.
“Hmm. And you’ve been working six-day weeks at Harry’s House of Hubcaps for how long now?”
“Twenty-four years!” he replied proudly, as if somehow it made him a real American to work his ass off for a quarter century while losing ground daily.
“How are your wages and benefits there?”
“Lousy,” he grumbled. “It’s all those Mexicans they’ve hired and — ”
“And how were they,” I interjected, “when you started working there in 1983?”
“Uh…not that great,” he mumbled, finally.
“So, then, tell me: do you think your dismal employment situation is the fault of immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, or perhaps instead of bottom-line corporations that deliberately use cheap labor to suppress pay and other benefits?”
He fell silent, an occurrence so rare I thought I should check outside for a solar eclipse.
Could this be his moment of clarity? Drawing a long breath, I went for it:
“Dolt, don’t you understand how you and your fellow right-wingers are being duped to ‘patriotically’ support policies that torpedo your own interests? Universal health care should be a right, not a privilege, as I’m sure any of the 47 million medically uninsured Americans would tell you. Plus, you deserve fair compensation for your labor. But the ruling corporatists who profit obscenely from the current system falsely tell you through their media and White House pulpits it’s un-American to believe such things and to blame someone else, like immigrants who, while they’re being obediently demonized by you and your ilk, are used gleefully by those same industrialists to destroy unions, suppress wages and institute neo-feudalism.
“Meanwhile, you’re exhorted to venerate our noble military to beneficently liberate non-Christians by slaughtering them so Big Business can loot the bodies and force the traumatized survivors to hail imperialism. Sorta like what was done to Native and African Americans by the continent’s earliest batches of immigrants; you know, our forebears. Might you detect a pattern here?”
He was teary-eyed. My gosh — had I finally gotten through?
“All our courageous warriors,” Dolt said somberly, shaking his head at a Fox story about a slain soldier’s grieving fiancé, “giving their lives so people everywhere can live free. Is this a great country or what?”
Arggh. Put me down for the “or what.”