Prairie Home Ignorance
A patriotic bike rally is sort of like a patriotic toilet-papering or patriotic graffiti; the patriotism somehow gets lost in the sheer irritation of the thing…
You don’t quite see the connection between that and these fat men with ponytails on Harleys…. It took 20 minutes until a gap appeared and then a mob of us pedestrians flooded across the street and the parade of bikes had to stop for us, and on we went to show our patriotism by, in my case, hiking around the National Gallery, which, after you’ve watched a few thousand Harleys pass, seems like an outpost of civilization…
There stood Renoir’s ballerina in pale blue chiffon and Monet’s children in the garden of sunflowers. And Mary Cassatt’s “The Boating Party,” which I stood and stared at for a long time. A lady in a white bonnet sits in a green sailboat, holding a contented baby in pink, as a man rows the boat toward a distant shore. (Perhaps the boat is becalmed.) The man wears a navy blue shirt, he is preoccupied with his rowing, and the lady looks wan and mildly anxious, as well a mother should be. The baby is looking dreamily over the gunwales. Is the man a hired hand or is he the husband and father?
A work of art can lift you up from the mishmash of life, the weight of the unintelligible world, and vulgarity squats on you like an enormous toad and won’t get off. You stroll down past the World War II Memorial, which looks like something ordered out of a catalog, a bland insult to the memory of all who served, and thousands of motorcycles roar by disturbing the Sabbath, and it depresses you for hours.
If anyone cared about the war dead, they could go read David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter or Stephen Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers or any of a hundred other books, and they would get a vision of what it was like to face death for your country, but the bikers riding in formation are more interested in being seen than in learning anything. They are grown men playing soldier, making a great hullabaloo without exposing themselves to danger, other than getting drunk and falling off a bike.
Keillor’s sand pounding ignorance is astounding. The bikers he refers to is the CHARITY organization Rolling Thunder. Rolling Thunder donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to veterans groups and to assist active military and families. They also work on behalf of POW/MIA issues. They don’t merely read about citizen soldiers they actively work to assist them, which is more than one can say about Keillor.
Keillor represents a cosmopolitan strain in our society, which views America as all about “progress” and holds attendant views of patriotism as nothing but “dissent” and “change.” These notions are quite different from the type of patriotism typified by Rolling Thunder.
I’m speaking here of a cultural divide in America. The “global we” versus the “American we.”
Obviously the spectacle of Rolling Thunder is offensive to Keillor’s cosmopolitan sense of patriotism. How dare they obstruct his high-brow outing of viewing art of Renoir and Cassatt. The “global we” scoffs at such low-brow “irritation.”
Keillor’s reaction to Rolling Thunder is typical of cosmopolitans in that they don’t really think that “the American we” has anything worthwhile to offer about patriotism or any other issue for that matter. In fact the “global we” get downright testy whenever they get a whiff of the “American we” talking about patriotism, call it patriotism paranoia.
The “American we” does indeed have important things to say about a whole host of issues, patriotism included. The sad fact is that the loud roar of Rolling Thunder falls silent on the tone deaf ears of cosmopolitans like Keillor.