Quarantine Diaries – Day 13
March 27th, 2020
The Oldest Profession
It’s official: The US has overtaken both China and Italy in the number of coronavirus cases. Truly living up to the reputation of being the greatest country in the world, the US is now the leader in this epidemic—I expected nothing less from my country.
For the record, we have no problem with poverty, our educational system, or healthcare because although the American Dream is now much easier to achieve in Canada, and Finland has the number one educational system, the US is still the greatest country in the world because we just are—I mean look at that flag; look at it closely.
It’s an amazing flag—it’s got fifty stars, seven red stripes, and only six white stripes, which symbolize the fact that we’re in fact a melting pot since white people are the minority in the US. God, how I wish the flag symbolized that; the truth, however, is that white people (Anglo Americans) still constitute around sixty percent of the population while the total amount of whites is over seventy five percent.
African Americans make up less than fifteen percent of the population while the bona fide Americans constitute less than two percent—you know, these guys, who were systematically exterminated because of some crazy belief called manifest destiny.
Crazy beliefs lead to crazy policies and in this case things were no different: What followed was the Indian Removal Act, which authorized Andrew Jackson to remove Native American tribes from their ancestral lands. Some tribes, such as the Cherokee refused and were forced to relocate, a process which became known as the Trail of Tears. The National Museum of the American Indian continues to educate the public about these events.
Chief Red Cloud only had this to say about whites: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.” Below is an 1872 painting by John Gast called American Progress which depicts, Columbia, an allegorical figure of the US, bringing “civilization” westwards in the spirit of manifest destiny. Far from the romantic image the painting depicts, this process killed so many Native Americans that it changed the global climate.
It gets even more despicable, however. John Wayne, one of the most beloved figures in film, had this to say in a 1971 Playboy interview: “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from the Indians. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.” Native Americans aren’t the only people he attacked. African Americans also get a mention and this old white man actually has an airport, a freeway, and an elementary school named after him; that list is by no means exhaustive. But fuck John Wayne and the horse he rode in on, as they say.
To this day, the US government hasn’t recognized the crimes committed against its original landowners as genocide. Even the scholarly community has been slow in shedding light on this issue; many have refrained from using the term “genocide” to describe the crimes committed against indigenous Americans. One prominent scholar who doesn’t refrain is Benjamin Madley at UCLA, whose book, An American Genocide, was published by Yale University Press in 2016.
Unfortunately, the politics of genocide have more to do with realpolitik than solidarity with victims. When the US recognized the Armenian Genocide, I was thrilled because neither the old country nor the diaspora thought it would ever happen.
If it took Turkey alienating itself from the West by invading Syria in order for the US to reconsider their position on this issue, then so be it.
As an Armenian, I didn’t really care what the reason was—sometimes justice is carried home in the pockets of criminals; this is mostly how politics work, if not all the time.
Like John Wayne, Ronald Reagan held many of the same beliefs and I guess that’s why I don’t like him; when I really think about it, however, unlike John Wayne, Ronald Reagan was kind of bad at his job; in fact, I think he was one of the worst presidents—the Iran-Contra affair and the defective trickle-downs of Reaganomics (call a plumber) are enough to make the case.
Despite all that, I believe that deep down Reagan understood the nature of politics extremely well, even if he was a poor politician: “It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.” Yes, indeed, it’s all about expediency, convenience, and price—all things that define good governing and likewise defy committed relationships.
In that sense, I don’t know if Native Americans will ever get the justice they deserve. After all, it’s easy to recognize genocides which someone else has committed, especially when then that very recognition also conveniently serves political purposes. I don’t know how Native Americans would feel if the US did acknowledge their suffering and accomplish some overseas political agenda in the process, but I’m not sure if there’s ever been a truly righteous act in the sphere of politics that did not have some external political goal attached to it.
When Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty in 1929 recognizing the independence of Vatican City, it’s not because he loved the Pope and was a devout believer. No, he had contempt for the church and the Vatican was more than happy to return that favor, but in an effort to win the popular support of Italy’s Catholic majority he made sure the following three things happened: that his children were given communion; that a priest perform a religious marriage ceremony for him and his wife whom he had married in a civil ceremony ten years earlier; and last but not least, of course, the Lateran Treaty was the icing that was more important than the cake itself.
Truly, all good things always come in threes, especially when you believe that the papacy is a “malignant tumor in the body of the Italians that must be rooted out once and for all.” Ah, the beauty of politics—the only arena where doublethink is never seen as a contradiction.
In more contemporary times, even human rights, according to a UN press release, are used for political purposes, often to criticize the actions of other countries (this sounds oddly familiar). In the following UN press release, there are numerous examples of this, such as Russia criticizing the “proportionate use of force by police” in the US (this is, in fact, a serious problem) but doing so not out of genuine concern for the victims, but with the political aim of cutting the US down to size.
The US meanwhile deplored the human rights violations in Syria, but, once again, this had less to do with the actual concern for the human rights of Syrians and more to do with the fact that such arguments justify military interventions that protect US interests abroad.
India’s representative even went after the UN itself, expressing “concern that the United Nations human rights machinery had divided States and was being used as a political tool.” Like the other statements, this one—as has been demonstrated by the other representatives—is not entirely inaccurate either, but what’s the political aim here? I’ll let readers decide.
Anyways, I’m going down the heavy-handed road once again, so let’s switch to something more personal. In the interest of an afternoon walk, my brother and I decided to go grocery shopping before food ran out completely. In the interest of taking a longer afternoon walk, we went into town where the supermarket is. In the interest of taking an even longer afternoon walk, we decided to forget where the supermarket was and look for it; when we “found” it, the line was once again long, and we waited about fifteen minutes to go in.
Just as we were about to enter the store, I saw this homeless man self-quarantining outside with a book—probably because he has no home. All jokes aside, I haven’t really thought about the homeless in relation to this virus. How do you follow the law when you can’t follow it?
We’re sick of staying at home because we have one, but this man would most likely be glad to self-quarantine if someone just gave him a house. We employ every excuse to go outside and, truly, it will only be a real quarantine until Italy adopts authoritarian measures that will allow the military to check people’s fridges; since we’re not at that point yet, it’s always nice to know that afternoon strolls aren’t against the law in a quarantine just yet. In our defense, we did buy a lot of groceries which we didn’t enjoy carrying home; that makes it a trip to the grocery store, not a walk, and thus not illegal—at least from the perspective of walking back.
In the spirit of following the law by not enjoying the walk back, let’s return to the US and coronavirus; although the number of cases is now higher than in Italy, I do hope that the government can prevent eclipsing the death toll as well. I’ve often criticized the US in these diary entries and today was no different, but at this moment people are suffering. Many can’t return to work and are forced to use their savings (if they have any) to survive.
Let’s not forget about the ridiculous statements by Brit Hume and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick about the elderly’s desire to die for the economy. When you start hearing arguments like that from powerful countries, it really is time to worry. Will the country use this opportunity to unify itself or will it continue to go down the path of authoritarianism and isolation?
Despite my pessimism and the negative attitudes I hold about the US, I want it to succeed on the home front without becoming authoritarian and to be effective on the international stage without relying on military intervention. We’re witnessing the decline of a great power and the US has a choice: to preserve its dignity and slow down this process—which even Rome couldn’t avoid—or to re-elect Donald Trump and continue believing that history can be deceived.
All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.
Until next time.
About David Garyan
David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.