During the past year or so I’ve been immersed in America’s heartland after spending over a month in the Wild West town of Cody, Wyoming — a town that happens to be 13 miles from the site of one of America’s concentration camps. I became a regular in town while living in a rental directly behind the old Irma Hotel, where a simulated “shoot-out” was held every day at dusk. I was in the heart of the gun-toting, pistol-packing American West, complete with gun, western wear, and boot shops.
Eventually, I came to know some of the locals in the nearly all-white community whose limited exposure to other races and ethnicities came in the form of tourists traveling through to go to nearby Yellowstone. My first week I managed to meet one of the few “liberals” in town, a University of Wyoming professor and Cody native who clued me in on some of the cowboy values of this Trump-loving town.
I had already seen the gigantic Trump billboard that overshadowed one lane of the main highway. I also took note of the numerous Confederate flag bumper stickers (and lots of Cheney ones, too). I hadn’t seen as much red, white and blue — on trash cans, park benches, mailboxes, and even on a huge storage tank — since the days immediately following 9/11.
I have to admit I was in shock when I heard there was no point in registering to vote as a Democrat in Wyoming because the state was so overwhelmingly Republican. In essence, a Democratic vote was meaningless. To make matters worse, this essentially one-party town was the closest I’ve ever been to Tea Party territory.
The raging controversy at the time revolved around people wanting to change the state-approved Common Core standards for the educational curriculum. There was a growing concern among a group of conservatives who didn’t want anything “negative” being taught in history classes because we needed to show America to be a great country. Wyoming was the rah-rah state that advocated not teaching anything negative (and you can only imagine what that included) about its history. Thankfully, it was voted down in Cody, except for a notable exception as to the science standards. Apparently, there was also disagreement over another controversial subject — climate change.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been trying hard to stay more balanced in my political views — hoping to find the common humanity that runs through everyone and their beliefs, regardless of race, gender, or income. As a child of the ’60s who grew up in the midst of civil unrest, I had been a starry-eyed idealist (though never a real activist) who had trouble siding with those at the right of center (i.e., Republicans) who seemed to get richer and more powerful by exploiting the poor and underprivileged. Being in Wyoming helped me see I could actually get along with people who happen to be Republican, notable among them being former Senator Alan Simpson, the outspoken political leader whose close friends included Norman Mineta and Ted Kennedy. In talking to Simpson about Heart Mountain, I realized he was a man with a big, kind heart, regardless of his political opinions.
Sadly, in these times, the divide between Republicans and Democrats is greater than it’s ever been. Trump, Cruz, and the Republican Party aren’t doing much to unite this fractured nation. The hateful things that spew out of Trump and Cruz on a daily basis are frightening — whether directed at Muslims, each other, or each other’s wives. Civility is a thing of the past and even made to look like a sign of weakness.
Perhaps it started with talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, but nastiness is spreading among the Republican candidates, and even some Democrats. Name-calling is rampant: Ted Cruz has been called “Lyin’ Ted,” Donald Trump a “Nazi,” Bernie Sanders a “Communist,” and Elizabeth Warren an “Indian.” There’s no escape from the constant barrage of personal attacks.
It’s difficult to resist fighting back when maliciousness is hurled at you. Sadly, someone who has managed to stay above the fray will soon be leaving office, and I, for one, will sorely miss him. Attacked by those who have contested everything from his place of birth to his right to appoint a Supreme Court justice, President Obama has remained remarkably civil. When Cruz chastised him for going to Cuba, Obama didn’t respond until the Republican presidential nominee insisted that Muslim neighborhoods be patrolled. Obama’s response is worth quoting: “ I just left a country (Cuba) that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance, which, by the way, the father of Sen. Cruz escaped for America …”
It was recently rumored that Obama might be the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m sure partisan fireworks will go off if he actually does end up going, not to mention (as reported in The Japan Times) the opposition that will come from Obama critics for his alliance with Prime Minister Abe, a leader who has been accused of continuing to engage in revisionist history. It’s a potential domestic and international scandal that might be daunting for most presidents, but Obama is different. From dancing the tango, visiting a little-known talk radio program in Pasadena, fighting for health care for everyone, and reinstating relations with Cuba, Obama is an Everyman who is willing to take it on the chin.
I will miss the leadership and vision of a president who feels like he’s one of us but at the same time is much, much better.
Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.