Monday, June 23, 2003

How I Became a Radical

I still remember the day it happened.

It was December 16, 1998. A cold, gray afternoon in northern Indiana. Patches of snow clung to the fields along Highway 31. I drove north on the two-lane road, toward our extended family party. Every year we got together for a combination reunion and holiday gift exchange. Assorted aunts, cousins, and children of unknown origin would be there.

I fiddled with the radio, looking for a station with decent reception and tolerable content. The local NPR channel was airing a live broadcast of the House impeachment vote. For me, the Lewinsky scandal was just another political slime-job. Fodder for the next election, but hardly worth impeachment.

As I heard the articles of impeachment being passed, I felt a bizarre disassociation. What the hell was going on here? To all appearances, the electoral mandate was being usurped by a handful of rogue legislators. Democracy was being undermined. Yet no one seemed to notice or care. People were hanging lights and having parties like it was any other Christmas.

I was baffled. In an attack on our highest elected official, prosecutorial discretion and sovereign immunity had been abandoned. Fairness and proportionality were out the window. It seemed so brazen and insane - a hollow, cynical power play. Why weren’t people taking to the streets, calling their congressmen, demanding a stop to this?

In my bewilderment, I became literally lost, missing my exit.

I arrived late to the party. The children had already unwrapped their presents. Parents were munching on the last of the buffet food. I tried to talk about my thoughts on the impeachment, but I was met with mumbles and glazed stares. Even my uncle, the Rush Limbaugh spouting reactionary, didn’t have a comment.

I was 35 years old, and for the first time I felt an overwhelming political and social disconnection from my country. What I considered commonsense was seen as radical, even unthinkable. I’d somehow slipped through the looking glass.


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