Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Red Land

Dinner With Bill, Sean, Mikey, Glenn, And Zeppo

A very mildly liberal christian friend, who had spent most of her formative years in Texas, just returned to California after a visit there, feeling bewildered and a little frightened.

At a restaurant dinner with the family of a close childhood friend, people around the table began questioning her about living in "that California": Wasn't there a lot of crime? Wasn't all that gay marriage stuff just terrible? So against god? What about "your illegals"; didn't she think we should do something about that?

Most of the people around the table had known my friend for at least a decade as she grew up in Texas and went to college. They lived in the same neighborhood. Their daughter and my friend have remained close over the twenty-plus years since; my friend is not a stranger to these people, and they're aware she's a christian.

My friend has also been unemployed for more than a year, raising three teenagers as a single parent, slowly spending her savings. She had nervously spent money to travel with her eldest son to see him ready to attend college this Fall (which he could do only because he had received a scholarship). Everyone at the table knew all of this, too.

She was a little nonplussed by their questions about California, and tried to answer noncommittally -- but it seemed that asking her these questions was just the family's way of introducing topics to monologue over:

>> Obama is "turning the country socialist", and "wants to build
that mosque"; "Somebody should do something."

>> Obama "is Muslim";

>> Many people on long-term unemployment are "lazy", and
any extensions of benefits are just "coddling" them;

>> One of the women around the table told my friend Europe
will be overrun
by hordes of Islamists while the rest of the world
stands by, paralyzed by liberal softness: The woman had been
reading America Alone: The End Of The World As We Know It,
a book by Rightist author Mark Steyn published in 2006. (Little
Rupert's Fox hearts Steyn and his book.). In all seriousness, the
woman told my friend, "He [Steyn] is the finest writer I've ever read";

My friend (who had married a man from Jakarta, Indonesia, and
worked abroad) asked the people around the table if they had
traveled in Europe; the father in the family replied, "I've
never been outside the United States", almost with pride;

>> The threat of illegal immigrants is very real -- "They
think Texas and the Southwest is still their land, and they'll try
taking it back if we don't do something," a man said.

My friend had sat uncomfortably at the table, and said little in response. Finally, the grandmother in the family stood up, looked archly at my friend and said (as if it were a rebuke), "Yesterday I went to my first Tea Party meeting" -- then abruptly walked out of the room.

My friend has a number of health issues, and takes several medications (currently paid for through an expensive COBRA plan, which she will lose as it's too expensive), and one side effect is a decreased appetite. The father in the family paid for everyone's meal; when handing the bill and a credit card to the waiter, he turned to my friend and said, "S'that why you didn't order any food? 'cause you don't have any money?" And, he was in no way kind when he said it.

What dismayed and frightened my friend was how angry her friend's family seemed. "I'm not all that liberal, but the more they talked, the angrier they got -- I was from California, so to them I had to be some kind of hippie radical.

"What was really frightening was their ignorance," my friend told me. "They weren't thinking for themselves; they didn't want to listen to anything except the kind of right-wing radio junk they were regurgitating."

Remember: Most of the family around the table had known my friend for at least a decade as she grew up and went to college. Their daughter and my friend have remained close in the twenty-plus years since; my friend is not a stranger -- but these people went out of their way to demean and insult her over perceived and assumed matters of ideology.

They thought she was a "California liberal", and treated her according to their own code of conduct. My friend, committed to her faith, did not protest. That would not have been my choice of response.

As she recounted what she'd heard said around the table in a public restaurant, my friend also remembered these people kept repeating phrases like, if we don't do something... somebody needs to do something... we'd better do something.

I have a very, very bad feeling about the future.

(NOTE: This post was edited on August 20, 8:07AM PDST)