California Forum

Americans don’t whine; we grasp opportunities

I put an end to most of the political diatribes I was receiving via Facebook by sending each correspondent the same response: “Source of information?” Most, it turned out, had words but no evidence.

A reliance on abstract language categories like “black” and “white,” “liberal” and “conservative,” “patriotic” and “unpatriotic” can lead to narrow, inaccurate perceptions and the illusion of facts.

Could language itself be a major reason so many consider such distinctions sacrosanct? Look at the political parties: we’ve got – de facto – at least three: Right, Left and muddled Middle. Or is that four or five (add Left-Lunatic and Right-Lunatic). Yet we’re told the two-party structure remains too entrenched to change. Why?

I’m one of those who supports the possibility of a third party, one less apt to swing hard-left or hard-right, more apt to examine evidence. Nevertheless, a longtime chum recently accused me of having become “a liberal” – pronounced with great scorn – because I had just told him that Donald Trump didn’t impress me.

“I suppose you’re voting for Hillary,” he spat in that same nasty tone.

“What’s the option?” I asked.

Count me among the thousands who aren’t deeply aligned with either party. I’m committed to trying to make America a better place for my grandchildren and don’t yearn for an imaginary past.

I also hope the candidates escape their codes – “Make America great again” (meaning, apparently, make it white again) – and that they offer informed plans. America is pretty good right now, I think, but it is facing a more complex, more daunting world, the product of old colonialism, of shadows from our own past, of new technology and of inability to cope with change.

I was born in 1937: Think of America then. There was no nuclear threat, but does anyone really want to go back to grinding economic depression, violent racism, limited opportunities, faint hope? There is far more tolerance today and much less exclusionary behavior. This illuminates our historical aspirations: We won’t return to old oppressions like Jim Crow.

In a memorable book, Noel Ignatiev explained “How the Irish Became White.” Perhaps it’s time we ask how we all became Americans. Not by whining, certainly, but by grasping opportunities. Not by building walls … especially walls to ideas.

Our strength has been hard-working, intellectually flexible people able to change with the times, not blaming others when we are challenged.

Gerald Haslam is a California author. His 2006 novel, “Grace Period,” published by University of Nevada Press, won this year’s Legacy Fiction Eric Hoffer Award. Contact him at