Smile Politely

Shut Your Mouth, Open Your Mind, Roll Up Your Sleeves

The plane lands. A pleasant man stamps my passport and customs officials are actually smiling.


I am concerned. People are taking off their shoes and laughing as they put them into those big, gray trays. Something is wrong with this picture. Where is the elbowing, the anxiety, the anger?

Apparently, America had a do-over in my absence. I read about it on the plane, in the Times. After 9/11, we had been given the good will of the world. But then we blew it, until last Tuesday, when we got a second chance.

A second chance! The world loves America again!

Lou Dobbs is on a big screen in the airport, discussing what went wrong. He looks ridiculous. People are dancing in the streets all over the world and he’s still pontificating about who is to blame. For what?

Driving home from the airport, I flip on the radio and flit past Rush Limbaugh. He sounds like the overgrown kindergarten bully, spitting and mispronouncing the name Ahmadinejad on purpose, hissing, a snake spewing poison. Aren’t people vomitously tired of this posture? And bored? And exhausted from all the evil, wrinkle-inducing hatred? (There’s a recession going on; you can’t afford the Botox.)

Come home to the new America, Rush. All is forgiven. I forgive you and I forgive me and, as they used to say in the Sixties, “May the Baby Jesus shut your mouth and open your mind.”

While I was waiting out the election in Mexico, people complained about the U.S.

“Gringos hate Mexicans,” the chilango taxi driver said, shrugging like it were a matter of fact.

Outside the Pyramid of Cholula, I overheard whispering about unfairness. “That gringo can explore our country anytime he wants,” they grumbled. “They won’t let us within 100 miles of Disney World.”

But after Tuesday, things seemed different. America was again the country where the impossible became possible. A black man would be president! Incredible! And, as mentioned last week in Smile Politely, we can talk about race now!

Mexicans, who may call you “mi negro” as a sign of affection, had no such trouble talking about race. At the newsstand on election day, one headline used a pun no U.S. newspaper would dare: “Black Day for McCain.” Another bluntly declared the election as “Black vs. White.”

I may have missed the UI students in their underwear celebrating atop the Alma Mater on Tuesday night, but I did watch the victory speech on the Internet in Roberto and Angel’s apartment, a comfy nest in the intimate, 22-million inhabitant town of Mexico City.

The hospitable and articulate couple, journalists and graphic designers, were expectant of an Obama win, but my attempts to explain the electoral college to them went for naught, probably because I don’t understand it myself.

Equally important to them was the outcome of the vote on Proposition 8 in California, and its passage — banning equality for same-sex couples — was a big letdown in an otherwise wonderful election.

Salon reported that, “Though Rove’s promised ‘permanent Republican majority’ lies in humiliating ruins, his and Bush’s one secure legacy will be their demagogic exploitation of homophobia.”


My niece in San Francisco, Erica, called to say that protests were underway, but that she was less upset by the outcome of the Prop 8 vote, having been through this before.

“They’re used to being oppressed,” she said of her comrades in the streets.

So election night joy had been tempered somewhat, but that was temporary anyway, as are all things. We have barely begun. Encouraging, and somewhat surprising, was the fact that the biggest cheers at Obama’s victory speech came when he called for national service, for everybody pitching in for each other rather than for themselves.

Roberto and Angel’s favorite playwright is the American master, Tony Kushner, who concludes his landmark, Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Angels in America, with the image of an angel descending through the roof (after causing some spontaneous orgasms earlier, I might add), and mysteriously announcing, in the final line of the play:


Let us turn now to the Tao Te Ching, verse seventeen, abridged:

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

When the Master’s work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

Related Articles