The sadness of things

Okay. Enough is enough. As the son of parents who were uprooted from their homes on the West Coast and made to live in an American concentration camp in Wyoming, I want to stand up and say that Donald Trump and his supporters should reflect a bit more on the consequences (and the premises) of their speech.

How far will you go to make a point?  What will you not do to gain advantages for yourselves?

As fellow Americans, you have things to say. You have learned effective ways to say them. You do not like certain things. I get that. I defend your ability to express an opinion, even when I disagree with you.

But I will not stand idly by and let you attack people who have done nothing to deserve your hatred.

My family did nothing to deserve the treatment they received in 1942. The Evacuation was hurtful, unnecessary, damaging to our nation’s understanding of itself and costly.

The same can be said for colonization, slavery and for the “manifest destiny” that led to the genocide of native peoples and the expulsion of Mormons — also mistakes that reverberate even now.

Hundreds of years after our founding, we are Americans because of our common belief in two seemingly opposing values: our distance from each other and the love we have for each other.

We might not approve of each other in every way. That is fine. I don’t need your full approval. Neither do you need mine. But I do need your good will and understanding — in all things. And if some of your wishes are to become reality, you need mine as well.

As someone who studies literature for a living, I could offer an analysis of what is appealing about Mr. Trump’s message. We are at a moment of transition, the end of the modern period. For many, this is a confusing and even threatening moment. But the confident clarity of groups such as ISIS, which are centered in cultures just now entering the height of their modern phase, cannot, and should not, be ours.

Our society is not so simple, not any more. Our moment of bombs, total war and totalitarian speech is behind us. We are, finally, growing out of the reflex to throw all those who make mistakes into prison and to kill everyone who disagrees with us. I understand your nostalgia for the good ol’ days. But your vision is for an idealized past that never really existed in the first place.  

Born during the modern era, the United States of America is both a place and a vision. I love both, and I offer my support to anyone else who wants to do the same.  

As an American, I know that support comes as compromise.  Which is to say, we are all at some level compromised. I can live with that, if you can. Fundamental to our reality is what the Japanese call mono no aware, the sadness of things.

I teach this truth to my students in the American form of “I suck, you suck, we all suck.” Repeat this sentence over and over until it makes you feel better.

Having an opinion does not mean that other opinions should not exist. The mistakes of a few, such as indulging in hate speech, should not condemn an entire group.  

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