Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
“Harlem,” Langston Hughes
Growing up and then teaching high school English in my small Southern hometown had one unhealthy consequence. I lead an ideologically closeted life until I was in my early 40s.
Rumors and direct confrontations colored my daily life as a public school teacher for 18 years. He’s an atheist and Are you an atheist? swirled around me as ever-present as oxygen—or as suffocating as a lack of oxygen.
I dodged and deflected as much as I could, but the stress, especially in the first several years, was overwhelming.
After teaching a bit over a decade, I entered a doctoral program and discovered my teaching philosophy matched a rich body of thought, critical pedagogy. That meant I was part of a Marxist tradition.
This revelation made complete sense.
As an undergraduate, I had found, read, and meticulously annotated a copy of The Essential Marx: The Non-Economic Writings, focusing on the education and religion sections.
It took more than 15 years, but because of graduate school, I recognized myself as a person and an educator as well as potential scholar in critical pedagogy, traced back to my initial attraction to Marx’s idealism.
Fast-forward to 2002, four years after I completed my EdD. I found myself invited to interview for a university position abruptly available during the summer.
I had been an adjunct at several local colleges and lead instructor for the Spartanburg Writing Project, housed in a local university, for many years; however, I walked into the interview with an idealistic view of higher education and a determination that I would teach at the university level out of the closet, with ideological and professional freedom.
During my sample lesson with faculty observing, I shared with the class that I am a Marxist as part of the discussion, fleshing out the terminology embedded in “critical pedagogy” and “critical literacy.” Later in a debriefing at the end of the day of interviewing, one future colleague leaned in close to me and whispered that I might want to avoid disclosing to students I was a Marxist if I joined the department.
I did move to the university, but I resisted that warning. All my classes hear often that they are learning through a Marxist instructional lens. I have nothing to hide, and I feel no shame for my ethical grounding.
My students also learn that ideology drives all teaching and learning. Objectivity and neutrality cannot exist in human interactions. I also warn that while my classes are transparent, they have experienced many courses in which educators mask and even deny ideologies.
Over the past couple years, an entirely different sort of transparency, or public outing, has occurred in U.S politics among Trump supporters. Hats and bumper stickers now gleefully celebrate what had mostly been unspoken or even unspeakable in the twenty-first century:
Disregarding that many are now openly confessing their nationalism, racism, sexism, and bigotry, self-outing has become a mainstream part of Republican pride and evangelical zeal.
While not uniquely contentious, current public and partisan bickering and animosity include a disturbing pattern of making false equivalencies. Activism among people from marginalized statuses are in no way the same as neo-Nazi and white nationalist rallies; the former is calling for equity for all (in other words, it is progressive) while the latter seeks to maintain an inequitable status quo (in other words, it is conservative).
The political and ideological division in the U.S., I fear, has no potential for being resolved. That is, I deeply doubt that the MAGA/deplorables energized minority will ever throw up their hands and declare their ideologies as morally bankrupt as they are.
The new Trumpublican movement is paradoxically very much American (who the country has been and remains in practice) and anti-American (antithetical to the ideals the country claims to embrace).
So despite my skepticism bordering on cynicism, I hope that the MAGA/deplorable boldness shakes the core of the centrist punditry that enjoys a hollow and provable false refrain: “This is not who we are.”
During the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas (both like Trumpublicans paradoxes of who America is and claims to be), this is who we are:
Just 7 years old, Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin was picked up by U.S. authorities with her father and other migrants this month in a remote stretch of New Mexico desert. Some seven hours later, she was put on a bus to the nearest Border Patrol station but soon began vomiting. By the end of the two-hour drive, she had stopped breathing.
Jakelin hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for days, her father later told U.S. officials.
If not for MAGA/deplorables, the U.S. would likely remained trapped, as Yeats wrote, here: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”
So we are now confronted with the consequences of the passionate worst.
Since the worst seem dedicated to self-outing, the best face an opportunity, not to change anyone’s minds, hearts, and actions, but to rise above as an energized majority.
This is the ideal to which democracy aspires; this is the sort of thing one might expect from people who claim they are a Christian nation.
What remains is whether this is the “deferred” potential of the American character. Or if we were actually deplorables all along.