I sat down to write in longhand a Gore Vidal-style essay about the current state of America’s decline because my mind was preoccupied with our imminent collapse and I didn’t have anything else to write. I hadn’t written anything like this kind of polemic in years, but I had been rereading Vidal’s political essays, easily the best I’ve ever read written by an American and absolutely formative in my American political education, and felt inspired to attack like Vidal. Attack. Attack. Attack! I used to like writing polemics and connected to a lot of Oregon readers with that genre.
If I was lucky, 50 people would read it. But a writer must start somewhere. One reader of this essay could be changed for the better, or reach out to me and change me for the better. It only takes one.
Before I started, I knew I was going to rework one of Vidal’s choicest lines about Ronald Reagan: “Proof of the failure of the American public education system is that Ronald Reagan was elected twice by landslides. “
Vidal was wrong on that, but not by much. It wasn’t the elementary teachers’ fault. All secondary’s and I would know because I was one of them for 30 years and saw the deadwood for myself. Most didn’t teach because they had nothing in their minds to teach. It was all rote and Pledge of Allegiance to our greatness and please regurgitate for the test, please. Teaching American history and government through worksheets, on paper and online.
My Vidalivians were going to be something like: “Proof of the failure of the American public secondary social studies teachers is that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by only 3,000,000.” And: “Proof of the failure of America’s public secondary science and health teachers is that so many Americans refuse to wear a mask and believe—just know—the virus is a hoax.” And: “Proof of the failure of America’s public secondary PE teachers is . . . well, just look at the average unhealthy American.” And: “Proof of the success of America’s greatest propaganda machine (ever) is that it dispensed its “news” through big tits of angry blonde women on television.” And: “Proof of the utter failure of the American public education system is that rendered its graduates and non-graduates so utterly bored by mostly rote instruction and regurgitation, that they easily fell into the honey trap of tech and gadgets and never questioned anything again except when is the next new hot toy coming? Of course, many people took to the streets to protest police brutality, but they sure had to showcase themselves doing it! Imagine John Lewis stopping during the March on Selma to Instagram it!
Oh yeah, I was going full Vidal attack mode!
The essay began. It sucked one sentence in. I was thinking too much about sting and structure and not writing from the heart and what I merely observe.
I stopped. I thought about something Sartre wrote: “New problems demand new writing styles.”
It was useless to write a political essay assaying new problems in America (well, not really new, just the same ones but ratcheted up exponentially by the internet and the President) with an old and stale writing style. I mean, a sonnet wouldn’t have cut it either!
So. . . I emptied my brain of the old and stale and let rip whatever came to mind about my nation. I didn’t know where it was going, but I knew it was going to be hot, hotter than hell (A great overlooked Kiss song by the way.)
First I decided to write in the first person plural WE, because that’s how we began on paper as a people, in a document we worship for its ideals but never seem to uphold in practice. I also wanted to use WE as my narrator because I didn’t want to exclude myself or any other American on how we got to this terrible place as a nation.
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