The Day The Music Died (but only for a few…)

I have started this piece a dozen times, each time drawing my cursor back up to the top highlighting and deleting in order to start anew. Because how does one express relief, and not sound naïve? In our cynical world, jaded and tough, our hides scaled and sharpened to thwart the daggers of violence and hatred hurled from the anonymous avatars denizens of the nasty morass, it’s easier to pretend that it does not bother us. This side, or that side – my tribe or that other tribe across a dividing line red or blue who have earned, and continue to earn, all the ill-will I can against them invoke.

A recipe for misery, a race to the bottom where the loudest voices and those in possession of the largest knife with which to slash and savage their way into my news feed prevail. It isn’t new, really – many recall the famous battle between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton for the presidency and point to that bitter feud as setting the tone for our contests; but is that true? Or have our occasional tournaments resembled more a pro-wrestling match where the match is for the enjoyment of the spectators and the faux sense of thrill, a game where the winners were pre-selected – being ourselves, a free people who battled each other in liberty and for the rights of even those who we opposed.

That sense of joint victory, that single-mindedness; for having engaged in the clash, for having been permitted to by a system which allows our voices to be heard, through our votes – of course – but through our donations and our participation in meetings and our volunteerism, pushing the issues in which we believe and challenging those whose are opposed to our own; a grand arena in which we all have become contestants, anti-gladiators who state bravely before each bout “We, who would live better, salute you!” to the emperors who sit above us – but always by our consent… Yes, they are still emperors, though we choose them through a process that is messy and frustrating but often enough, frequently enough astounding us as to the results to show us that anything remains possible in America. A black man from a broken home. A real-estate mogul with no relevant experience. An actor from when Hollywood had honor. We cherish these stories – because in them we all win, because in their hope lies our hope, in their opportunity, our opportunity. A vicariousness that keeps us all engaged, animated, knowing opportunity might descend upon us at any time and change things forever like the clinks of the slot machines in Vegas that occasionally ring out into their metal bins for all to hear about the life-altering luck of somebody not too far away or different.

This time, our 2016 contest was a little off, but I won’t dwell on that. At least not today. ‘Illegitimacy’ is not a mantle the free winner of a fair fight will easily accept; the rules must be adhered to after all or the joust has no meaning. It’s no wonder that the last years have been so acrimonious. It’s been unfair, simply put. But that is in the past, and things worked out – amazingly. Even, yes even now: I started this piece with the deleted phrase, “An enfeebled specter is rowing its way back to Cuba – the specter of socialism. Like all specters, this ghost was finally shown to be ephemeral, transparent, unreal, fiction. #FakeNews.” And onward, but it seemed facile and mean-spirited; for this is the great story of the season and must not be cheapened by spite or cynicism, for we all have something to celebrate!! American socialism is dead. Ring the bells for all to hear, roll out the carpets and open your homes for your neighbors to eat, wealthy and poor alike, knowing they are not entering to measure the drapes or with an eye thrown askance upon the silver. American socialism is dead, because it never was. We are not a thieving people; we are not a greedy people; we are not a people whose sole motivation is envy and hate. That, at least, has been shown crystal clear, in technicolor HD. For the people were given a chance to self-immolation – presented in fact even with the knife, as they were in Venezuela, and a demonstration of its use – and they responded with a polite, emphatic “No thank you. We have heard you out, but we have determined that yours is not the path to a life more abundant.”

We are returned to the national debate as it was intended, rancorous though it is and somehow more bitter today, between the two underlying principles always in tension which have buttressed our liberalism since the founding of that idea three hundred years ago: the search for liberty and equality. Liberty, freedom to do that which we believe is right, to pursue our happiness in the ways that make our souls sing – and to allow others to do the same; and equality, the egalitarianism which reaffirms that all men are created equal under God and are entitled to the same opportunities as those higher up the ladder. Liberty we have been good at as a modern nation – equality is something we have struggled with, and continue to do so today. And this is not helped by the fact that too many participate in a bait-and-switch replacing equality of opportunity with equality of outcomes. And too many use the chimera of inequality to engage in incitement, “In criminal law, incitement is the encouragement of another person to commit a crime.” In this case, it is most often incitement to grand larceny.

But that is over. The “socialist wave” was not a tsunami, it was only ripples in a park-pond. And why? Because Americans are good people, free people, people who believe in law and cherish their lives. This assessment is not based on social media (or in point of fact the regular media these days), those toxic environments where hate-mongering is encouraged; but is in fact to be found in our HOAs, in the parking lots at our malls, in the lines at Disney World and on our juries. Where real physical people interact with real, physical people. All else is fleeting, on a boat back to Cuba with the few dozen people who proposed that there was a better way until they were drowned out and humiliated by we a people committed to living free!

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About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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