Back when I was in graduate school, on the last day of a seminar on Eastern European literature, the professor asked us what we thought characterized literature from that part of the world. We concluded that it was a sense of fatalism.
In fact, I think I was the one to first suggest that answer, for I recognized the fear and sense of futility. As an immigrant who came here at a young age with my parents from Slovenia, then part of communist Yugoslavia, I knew firsthand the difference in attitudes that marks the American character. It provided a source of conflict between me and my parents, who, like many immigrants, doggedly clung to security and obscurity — while I read and dreamed of becoming a famous writer, and in the American way studied for a Ph.D. in spite of my age and early educational track.
But this was not uncommon. The parents of my Ukrainian friends carried a look of worried fear. The mother of one of my friends made it a policy to sign no “papers.” Her refusal to sign a form denied my friend a scholarship to become a dental hygienist — her dream. My Polish friend Anthony Bukoski writes superb short stories that capture the sense of a proud and brave people brutalized by totalitarian regimes and then made refugees. Metod Milač, a Slovene, has written a riveting account of his experiences of imprisonment by the Italian Fascists and German Nazis. A friend, whose late father had been a member of the Slovenian Home Guard that had resisted the takeover by the communist Partisans, literally looked over his shoulder on the streets of Cleveland.
But those streets, once havens for displaced persons, soon were destroyed by the utopian plans of collectivists and their agitators who urged the mobs to violence. The neighbors of my working-class neighborhood in Rochester, New York, complained from their front porches of increasing taxes, as they watched their property values deteriorate from the urban “renewal” and social decay of Johnson’s Great Society program. While a job at Kodak or a stint at the community college was the aspiration for the graduates of Benjamin Franklin High School in the mid-seventies, we believed that nonetheless it was possible for someone of talent to make it big. Like the Partridge Family, they could take to the road, or at least enjoy owning a Camaro or Firebird — before the burdens of suburban family life took precedence.
We are seeing even those small marks of personal pride and independence — the freedom to rev up the engine on a Friday night — taken away. The muscle cars, under the diktat of the president and head of General Motors, are simply being eliminated and replaced by Yugo-style cars. The common retort to my lament is that such a boost to the male ego is silly in light of global warming and the greater good. What I find alarming, though, is that today’s generation submits to such authority.
And what about those from the upper-middle classes who had dreams of becoming doctors, executives, or entrepreneurs? As our president defies history and the Constitution by firing executives, citizens applaud.
Perhaps the most disturbing sight for me during the campaign — even more than Obama before the mobs in Berlin — was the corn-fed Midwestern couple starring on one of Obama’s commercials. Those were the people that I grew up with — salt of the earth. But I winced as I heard them tell Obama about their personal problems with bills and health care while soft music played in the background creepily.
They wanted him to take care of them. True to form, while North Korea conducted nuclear tests, Obama hailed his credit card reform — as if we are incapable of reading the fine print or making a phone call on our own. While young protesters longing for fair elections died in the streets of Tehran, Obama signed a bill to protect us from cigarettes. Now Obama wants to tell us what medical procedures we should have, how much we should earn, and what kinds of cars we should drive.
What are the responses to complaints about such violations of our “unalienable right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Frequent proclamations by the White House press secretary, by the secretary of state, and by the president himself of “we won.” And during his June 23 press conference, when presented with criticisms about his response to Iranian protests, Obama royally proclaimed twice, “I’m president.” So much for “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Now it’s only the “people” who voted for Obama.
Perhaps what is most disturbing is the president’s unprecedented ridicule and dismissal of citizens — even for such things as their radio programs, by telling Republicans not to “listen to” Rush Limbaugh. And apparently “open communication” from the White House is only for Democrats, for I received only two emails when I signed up for the list before I was dropped. In light of such developments, the Department of Homeland Security’s right-wing extremist memo, with its unfounded warnings about those who disagree with the administration, portends ill for those who don’t march lockstep with Obama’s dictates.
Say what you want and ridicule me the way our president does, but this naturalized citizen is looking over her shoulder on this Independence Day.