Henry Rollins: Backroom Bigotry Is Now Out in the Open

Henry Rollins
Henry Rollins
Heidi May

The United States — or as I call it, USA, without “the” (like CIA) — is, in my opinion, the most fascinating country on the planet.

The entire world watches USA’s every move. From how it impacts global economies and ecosystems, to its celebrities and political machinations, USA is infinitely consumable and reality-show riveting. It’s like the O.J. Simpson trial gave birth to thousands of spinoffs. So many choices!

Though I am a longtime taxpayer and resident, I find myself reading about the travails of USA from outside its borders as if I am a spectator. Watching the ramp-up to the presidential election from afar, it plays like an Aaron Sorkin script of brilliantly written gaffs and mad pole vaults into the abyss, perfectly directed by David Fincher with the subtle dexterity and knockout power of Zodiac. The two prominent candidates — one a businessman and reality TV star, the other a robotic, veteran political operative — bash away at each other, while a large part of USA’s electorate watches in varying states of repulsion and disinterest, like it’s merely the ghost impulses of an amputated limb.

The athletes who are choosing not to stand for the National Anthem is an interesting topic from this distance. Obviously, USA holds different meanings and expectations, depending on who you ask. This is what the First Amendment was made for.

I’m not surprised that so many veterans and active-duty members of the military support these protests. Wouldn’t it be great if these actions could be seen as more than mere defiance and perhaps the catalyst for a national conversation on issues of race and equality? But I don’t know; that would require a lot of exceptionalism.

My father used to make me stand on his front lawn, with my hand on my heart, and sing the National Anthem over and over. I have always and will always stand for the National Anthem. I even do it when I watch Monday Night Football at a pal’s house. I stand for all those young people who were taken from USA by the draft or a sense of duty, and didn’t come back alive.

I can’t put myself in their place. I don’t have that kind of courage. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to be living in your neighborhood and then find yourself in the jungles of Vietnam several months later. A famous musician who avoided that particular conflict told me that it was surreal when people he knew were suddenly gone, never to be seen again.

From a great distance, it appears that USA is in a time of almost total transparency. That is to say, no one is holding back. Things once whispered in backrooms are now primetime talking points.

USA has millions of racists, homophobes and misogynists, many of whom characterize these self-customized tics as something akin to integrity, or “keeping it real.” Instead of evolving, many are just not keeping up appearances anymore and letting it all hang out. To call them on their bigotry would be to body-shame their intellect.

They want USA to be great again. It’s been bugging them for a long time now. It’s not a difficult fix, really. Only 11 million illegal people need to be sent back to whatever crime-ridden country they came from, so fast their heads will spin. Then there’s the wall, which according to Bernstein Research as quoted in The Economist last July will cost between $15 billion and $25 billion. But hey, since Mexico is paying, USA has it made in the shade.

A few other small details need to be addressed. You know, there’s all those homosexuals and the blacks with their black-on-black crime, women who think their body belongs to them, Muslims, scientists, global climate change believers, etc. But a few tips on how to make these people disappear from KGBro Vladimir, and USA will be great once again, like the early days of the War on Drugs.

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You might not be around to bask in the glory, but you knew you couldn’t hide forever. On the other hand, you can be the head of a major news outlet, harass women and get paid 40 million bucks to leave the building.

Keeping USA together, a historically bloody and relentlessly complicated bit of business, is proving to be too heavy a can to keep kicking down the road. It was one hell of a high-minded idea, but at this point you would have to be high to believe it can sustain without a major, top-to-bottom, bipartisan overhaul, which you can put on that long list of jobs that “Americans don’t want to do.” (Many of those employment opportunities, by the way, are currently filled by those 11 million lazy scoundrels who will soon be leaving. No doubt all the “real Americans,” who have been thus far deprived, are going to run at those back-breaking, low-paying jobs with all speed. No, really, they will. Greatness is just around the corner.)

USA isn’t the only amazing patch of land flummoxed by curb-high impediments to forward movement. Here in beautiful Australia, there is talk of conducting a plebiscite (basically, what USA would call a referendum vote) to ask the electorate if they are in favor of marriage equality. To ask this ridiculous question could cost upward of A$160 million. It was surprising to learn about this when I got here two weeks ago. Australia doesn’t seem like the kind of place to get bogged down in something so mean-spirited and small-minded.

This new century isn’t as new as it used to be, and dragging the bigotry of previous times with us doesn’t always serve us well. Standing your ground as technological innovation and science continue to go from strength to strength, as natural resources continue to become more scarce, all on a planet that is rapidly changing due to human existence, is just stupid. It’s time to get going. It always is.

Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.


More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
Let's Invade Canada

Bend Over, America — Here Comes President Trump
I Am Basically a Vinyl Cat Lady

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