A Part of Apartness

roman fire 0520

This morning I found a typo while reading, which by itself is hardly unusual (believe it or not, some can even been found within the confines of this blog), but this one stuck out for the diametric opposition offered by a single space.

I believe I was on the intellectual hunt for the reason why the mother in the Disney cartoon series Big City Greens is in a few but not most of the show’s episodes, and on some other day we can speculate to our heart’s content why the Disney company has it out for maternal characters (in the meantime, you can do your part by noticing how many Disney shows and movies feature single dads) when I ran up against someone wanting to suggest something was “a part” of something but instead opted for “apart.”

Apart: separate; a part: a piece of the whole. And initially I thought, Great! Fun with words! But then I went to my headlines, and what I thought instead was, This American fabric we are all a part of feels like it is coming apart. Suddenly it didn’t seem so fun anymore.

One particular cheery headline read thus: “Gripped by disease, hardship, fury, America plunges into crisis.”

At a minimum, 40 million Americans are out of work, plunged there in a space of two months. At a minimum, 100,000 Americans have been killed by a “novel” virus that we can’t cure, prevent or contain. And now we appear poised on the brink of yet another in what seems to be an endless series of race wars, egged on by the president, who wants white people to arm themselves to “liberate” their states even as he issues the latest threat, in a presidency filled with threats and bluster, against black “THUGS.”

Actually, that’s not the latest threat: now he — forgetting that he was one once, himself, and not that long ago — would like true Americans to rid themselves of Democrats. It may have been a retweet, but this came from the presidential thumbs: “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

Hillary Clinton was taken to task for her “basket of deplorables,” but it turns out she was right all along.

Coming apart at the seams, it seems to me, when one fails to use that social-distant space: a part. Isn’t that what it says on our money? E Pluribus Unum? Out of many, one. A part of the whole. If you can’t trust money, what else is there?

I think about the Romans often these days, them and their Latin that’s stamped on American money. I imagine most societies (civilizations, if you must) envision their way to be the apex, but in terms of arrogance, I would put the Romans way up there. (Like Disney, they didn’t put a whole lot of stock in maternal types.)

No “my way or,” the Roman Way was the highway. While Ghengis Khan and Alexander the Great put together hasty empires of vastness, not much survived their demises (to really oversimplify history). But those Romans, they conquered and maintained and brought the world to Rome. It was good to be a citizen, for one thousand years. A part of the empire, neé republic.

Until internecine feuding cracked open the door to let the Germanic tribes in, and one thousand years of Roman arrogance crumbled away by 476 AD/CE.

While Rome the city is still there, populated by fewer Italians than mere months ago, it is hardly the linchpin of the Mediterranean and Europe it was 2,000 years ago. And we refer to Latin as a “dead language,” even as I toss around “internecine,” which started out as Roman (although Samuel Johnson apparently turned the meaning slightly, Englishizing it to the manner in which I throw it around now).

But my point, which I feel I lost some paragraphs back, is that no matter how self-assured a society is, so far not a single one has proved infinite. I would put Americans up there among the self-assured. When you refer to yourself as the “world’s lone superpower,” it certainly seems as though some tiny bit of arrogance must back that up.

But right now I — and I don’t think I’m alone — don’t see us as either super or particularly powerful. At this moment I don’t especially feel as though I am a part of an exciting tradition of democracy, not when so many things I took for granted as “norms” feel like they’re coming apart.

Under one of my headlines this morning was the notion that not all events that feel like major turning points actually become those, and maybe this is an ugly hiccup to eventually be forgotten by all those except historians. The Civil War — now that was a rupture. But while you would think that a pandemic (I think back then they were epidemics) of 100 years ago that killed 675,000 would be a seminal moment, it appears that we got past it without much soul-searching or reflection.

Perhaps you, like me, didn’t even know until just now that 100,000 Americans died from influenza in 1967 — an epidemic I lived through unaware. (Ten years prior to that, in an epidemic I wasn’t around for, 115,000 people died from flu in the U.S.)

We do, many of us, recall (not first-hand) the Great Depression, the aftermath of which did provide seminal change in America that leads straight to the expectations I have today about the national government’s role in a crisis or two or three. Fomenting the crises is not the role I envision for the federal government, and since that’s what’s happening, I am in my own Personal Depression, and nothing about it feels great.

I would much rather be a part, but I must stand apart from a pompous bully and his spineless enablers.  When their goals all seem to be to tear those of us who are not like them apart from a fabric they pretend existed once but never really did, I cannot play a part. None of us should. E Pluribus Unum. It says so on our money.

Brought to you by Republicans:


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