Gregory Stephen's Weblog
Friday, April 02, 2004
CONNECTING THE DOTS IN THE BARBER SHOP
By Gregory Stephens
While the insularity of Oklahomans does sometimes drive me nuts, there are benefits to living in my birth state. One is that I get an up-close view of just what conservatives in mid-America really think. Having lived in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Austin, and Chapel Hill, I know how most progressives tune out this troublesome reality.
On April Fool’s day, I went to my local barbershop in Capitol Hill, where for three years I’ve been paying $5 to cut my hair. This area is almost completely Mexican now, but the barbershop is still frequented primarily by old-timers and “rednecks.” I like to compare the news they tune in to, with what I hear from on-line and Spanish-language sources.
There is a storm gathering outside the U.S. media echo chamber. The degree of truth coming out about “spiritual wickedness in high places” is causing a sea change. I saw this commentary on the Bush regime in an April 1 Buzzflash editorial: "These are people who think that their lying and abuse of our government is ‘heroic’ because they believe that they are imparted with some elitist notion that they know what is best for this nation."
I have a relationship with the people in this barbershop. They have given me moral support and clothes for my children during a custody battle. They know I was a bilingual teacher at an elementary school a block away, and they share my view of the dismal state of public education in Oklahoma.
Jocular asides about family affairs are the order of the day here. I let it slip that April 1 was my daughter Sela’s 10th birthday, and I was soon going to have to buy a gun. A man in a cowboy hat told me about making his daughter memorize some Bible verses before he let her begin dating at age 16.
On TV we watched the footage of American mercenaries being fried in Fallujah. "They're building schools in Iraq,” I observed.
"I guess they need it,” said my barber. “Most of them are probably illiterate."
He clearly was not making connection between building schools in Iraq, and closing schools and laying off teachers in the U.S.
Then Pat Robertson came on and began ranting that John Kerry was clueless about the rise in gas prices. “Somebody needs to do something about the price of gas,” said my barber. Again, I held my tongue. Even the right-wing Oklahoman was discovering the connection between “the incredible 80 million barrels of oil per day” the world was now consuming, and declining production of oil. But arguing that “gas is too cheap as the Age of Oil nears empty” would be political suicide even among most liberals. In my barber shop, I was not going to be the one to observe that we paid far less for gas than Europeans (those unmanly pansies!) which was why we had little mass transit—and a major reason why we were watching footage of American mercenaries being brutalized during an American occupation of an oil-rich foreign nation.
Pat Robertson was saying we had to give free rein to oil companies. Ah, the essence of faith for Bushian Christian conservatives! 67% of regular church goers support Bush, after all. Just as my barber finished my hair, I said, in as neutral a tone as possible: "Pat Robertson says God told him the election will be a cakewalk."
"Who, Bush?" he responsed, with some doubt.
"Yes, Robertson said God told him so."
There was an uncomfortable silence as the employees and customers chewed over the possibility that the enemy was among them. Now, I would never criticize Bush OR a preacher in that environment. Nor would I repeat barbs such as the columnist who recently asked: If Kerry wins the election, will Robertson become an atheist?
I heard televangelist John Hagee in San Antonio proclaim “Thank God for Fox news!” Here in Oklahoma City, locals—Anglo, English-speaking locals, at least—are not likely to hear much beyond the worldview of preachers who claim divine blessing for the invasion of Iraq, and that Bush is going to cakewalk over Kerry. I can’t challenge that directly. But just repeating Robertson’s claim made them uneasy.
Here in the heartland, a lot of people do instinctively feel that, yes, lying and abuse of government is heroic, because government is evil to begin with, and lying to do God's will is the only way to keep "liberals" from destroying this country.
I have been chewing over the undigestable reality that my Christian family hates people like me. They love me, of course, but they listen to voices who vilify my kind. When I connect the dots, it leads me to realize that, in political terms, my family is my enemy.
How would I ask my kin to contemplate this scenario?--“the notion that some radical zealots in the Bush Administration deliberately ignored the threats of a terrorist attack… in order to receive the mandate to invade Iraq, seize its oil and install permanent military bases (14 to be exact). And that Iraq was meant to be only the first step in a plan to expand our military reach, force regime change in nations that resisted U.S. influence, and seize natural resources wherever possible.”
Those aspirations for world dominance were openly proclaimed by the White House and the Project for a New American Century years ago, after all. So independent-minded people, having connected the “factually verifiable dots,” must at least consider the worst-case scenarios about the “messianic militarism” of those currently holding power.
Too much truth has come out to stop this sea change, I suspect. But the world-view of my family and other true believers will not change. We will still listen to different muses; we will still be political enemies; and we will still treat each other with respect, and love.