Life on the American River

…the colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces, of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do, they’re really saying, I love you…
What a Wonderful World, sang by Louis Armstrong in 1967

The American River runs through the heart of Sacramento, from the bedroom communities in the eastern foothills all the way into downtown. There is a wide expanse of parkland along both banks. Down on the river these days the sun doesn’t set till after 8 p.m., and on weekdays after work, and after the heat of the day starts to recede, people gather.

Some sit on the bank in beach chairs, enjoying the breeze that’s cooled as it passes over the water. Others fish for striped bass and shad that run this time of year. On the footbridge that connects the neighborhoods of Rancho Cordova on the south bank to those of Fair Oaks on the north bank, hundreds of people cross, passing fishermen casting their lines. There are cyclists, people walking their dogs, families, couples. The people are of every color imaginable: white, black, brown, Asian. And nobody notices. Nobody thinks anything of it.

On these weeks near to the solstice, the daylight lingers. The sun drifts north as it slowly sets, prolonging the day. From the south bank the sun hangs directly over a bend in the river, reflecting off the water. It turns the swimmers downstream into silhouettes, their identities extinguished in the glare. Only their common humanity is visible as they stand in the water, their legs chilled by snowmelt from the High Sierra, their torsos baking in the sauna of a Sacramento summer.

A short distance downstream, on the north bank, on a compound guarded around the clock by sheriffs and state police, is the mansion where Gavin Newsom lives with his family. But nobody enjoying these fine evenings on the river thinks about politics. They’re enjoying life. To be part of this, it wouldn’t take but five minutes for Gavin and his family to summon the bodyguards, pile into their armored SUV, and come down to the river. Don’t hold your breath.

This is unfortunate. This is a missed opportunity. It’s a teachable moment Gavin Newsom will never experience. Because if California’s posh leader bothered to mingle with real people for a change, instead of the professional hate-mongers who pass themselves off as spokespersons for “the people,” he wouldn’t see colors. He wouldn’t see group identities. He wouldn’t see warring factions of privileged and oppressed. He would see hundreds of Californians, Americans, united by simple pleasures amidst profound beauty.

Gavin Newsom isn’t the only member of America’s elite to ignore the resilient unity that still lives in the hearts of most Americans. A typical example of what is the current fixation of the media is ABC’s Nightly “News,” where for the past several months, whenever they weren’t hyping COVID-19 as the plague of the century, they were hyping something far more preposterous – that America is an endemically racist nation. Day after day, stories that shouldn’t even make local news are reported as if they’re events of national importance. The theme is always the same: a white person does something offensive or harmful to a black person. There is never any context. There are never any stories of blacks offending or harming whites, or other blacks. It’s a constant drumbeat: whites are racists, unworthy of anything they possess, living on land they stole, in a nation built on the backs of black slave labor.

There’s plenty of evidence to refute this nonsense, and it’s obvious as well why the networks are gripped by this obsession; they’re terrified that blacks will vote for Trump. So they’re willing to lie, misrepresent, selectively emphasize, and grossly distort events in order to foment racial resentment and hatred. In a bitter irony, ABC Nightly News always ends its 30 minute newscast with a “feel good” story. Somebody helping a stranger. Somebody triumphing over adversity. An act of courage, a gesture of kindness. Ironic, because this brief feature invariably follows 25 minutes of absolute trash, scientifically formulated to anger and terrify viewers. And by design, the Pavlovian repetition dulls the bullshit receptors of all who watch.

Back on the banks of the American River, thankfully, people aren’t watching television. An inordinate percentage of the people on the water aren’t even staring at their phones. Take a walk on the footbridge. Listen. A white man asks a black man “what did you catch?” Smiling, he answers “got some bass.” An Asian woman compliments a Hispanic couple on their beautiful German Shepherd. The dog pulls on its leash, attempting a friendly leap onto its admirer. Two men of indeterminate ethnic origins toss a Frisbee back and forth in the distance. A watchful mother’s child pedals their first bike, nearly wobbling into strangers who carefully step aside. The sounds of laughter rise above the murmur of conversations and the rush of the water under the pylons.

This is the America that Gavin Newsom doesn’t see, and ABC’s David Muir ignores. This is the America that endures, and will endure, long after the separatists and provocateurs are gone.

For the sake of one presidential election, America’s elite institutions, all of them, are fomenting racial strife and pandering to radicals. They are unwilling to put police violence into any realistic, fact based perspective. Instead of encouraging activism to build on previous reforms, they are fueling violent rioting and succumbing to ridiculous demands. It is a shocking dereliction of civic responsibility and a devastating rejection of our shared national identity.

Where are the leaders who will remind us that Christopher Columbus was a brave visionary, who defied the scientific wisdom of his time to prove, in a voyage that required unimaginable bravery, that the world was round? Who will step up and remind us that Father Junipero Serra was a man who lived a life of humility and compassion? Why can’t Gavin Newsom find the courage to say these things?

Instead he sits in his mansion, insulated from and in denial of the positive aspects of our history and the harmonious essence of our society today. And within sight of the same sycamores and cottonwoods, along the same riparian corridor that nurtures hawks, deer, jack rabbits and mountain lions, this harmonious human society is on abundant display.

Gavin Newsom needs to get out a little more. There are fine evenings to be had on the American River.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

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