How will you observe this American President’s Day, Monday February 15, 2021?
Most years we Americans pay no mind to the American President’s Day, except noting it’s a federal holiday and the banks and the stock market are closed (except to Big Money). But this year? Can you just ignore it this year? Or do you feel some need to set a moment aside to consider the term and concept: the American Presidency? How will you observe this American President’s Day?
If you followed the Impeachment Proceedings this past week, that is. I’m sure you did.
So, I want to know what the term “American Presidency” means. Today, as well as historically.
I would also like to know what “Truth” means.
And what “Law and Order” means.
I want to know what “Government” means.
What “By the People, for the People” means.
What “Representation” means. What “Due Process” means. What “Evidence” means.
If I had any energy left I would ask what “Bipartisan Politics” means.
“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil,” The Book of Exodus says. Is that what we do today in America? And what does “America” even mean now? Also, what did it mean in 1776 and 1787?
American Constitutionalism always makes me nervous because of the trouble it seems to get us into with several amendments. But maybe it is in that hallowed document and its authorship that my answers lie?
But do they? The debaters on both sides of the Senate invoked the Constitution and the Founding Fathers repeatedly. Of course they would, being the trained lawyers they are.
Now, I understand why it is important to trust and respect these institutions and figures. We have to believe in something, since much else in American history is now revealed to be quite embarrassing in the eyes of the whole world. But can the answers to my wonderment about the American President’s Day really be found in the Constitution? Or the politics of the Founding Fathers?
The same men who thought and asserted they could uphold E Pluribus Unum while holding and fathering slaves?
Leave alone the undecidability of the First Amendment in practical situations. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In such a cornucopia of freedoms, whose freedom predominates? And who gets to decide?
Or take the Second Amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Who are “the people”? Who are the “Militia”? It seems likely that after January 6, 2021 we shall be indefinitely in the dark about those things.
So, kept in the dark about the two Constitutional Amendments above, is it a wonder really that we saw both of these issues bandied about and thrown up into the air last week, as on January 6, 2021? And felt speechless and tied up?
I’m no constitutional scholar. But I am suspicious of all literal interpretations of any text, sacred or secular (or a puzzling hodgepodge of both). However, if we think of a definition of the nation as an “imagined community,” coined by the scholar Benedict Anderson, does America have a future?
Does America have either Imagination or Community now?
So, how will we observe this American President’s Day?
Please comment if you would.
But the show must go on. I offer you a little bit of Arts and Culture for consolation. I share with you today a newsletter called Ephemera, a lovely digest of what’s happening outside of the political quagmire this President’s Day. I hope it brings you some relief.
And in case you think I’m nothing but a disaffected anti-American, consider reading this piece about Narendra Modi’s India and the politics of gender there in this piece I recently wrote.
And to take your minds off the antics of snake oil salesmen, here’s a short story where I try to draw a picture of immigration in America.
The itty bitties:
Folks, I was born and raised in India and have called the United States my second continent for the last thirty-odd years. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve generally turned to books for the answers to life’s questions, big or small (that includes philosophy and recipes). My first novel Love’s Garden was published in October 2020. Some nice people have said some nice things about it (Buzzfeed; Medium.com; Foreword Reviews; Goodreads). I’m currently finishing my second novel about about Caste and Hindutva politics in Narendra Modi’s India and love, racism, xenophobia and other mysteries in Donald Trump’s America, titled Homeland Blues.
My short stories have been published or will be in the Saturday Evening Post Best Short Stories from the Great American Fiction Contest Anthology 2021 (forthcoming 2021), the Good Cop/Bad Cop Anthology (Flowersong Press, 2021), the Gardan Anthology of the Craigardan Artists Residency, Funny Pearls, The Bombay Review, Meat for Tea: the Valley Review, Storyscape Journal, Raising Mothers, The Bangalore Review, OyeDrum, and more. I’ve attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, the Vermont Studio Center residency, the VONA residency, Centrum Writer’s Residency, and others. I was first runner-up for the Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction contest (2017-2018), long-listed for the Disquiet International Literary Prize (2019 and 2020), a finalist for the Reynolds-Price International Women’s Literary Award (2019), and received Honorable Mention for the Saturday Evening Post Great American Stories Contest, 2021.
In a related avatar, I’m Professor of English at Texas A&M University, USA and teach and write about English literature, South Asia Studies, Indian Cinema, Postcolonial Studies, Colonial Discourse Analysis, Gender Theory, Film Studies, and Critical Theory. I founded and directed (2007-2017) the South Asia Working Group of the Glasscock Humanities Center at Texas A&M University, and rom 2012 -2014 directed the Graduate Studies program of the English department at Texas A&M University. I’ve published three academic monographs and many articles on film, world literature, feminism and visual culture, colonial and postcolonial discourse analyses of literature from the eighteenth century onwards, gender in South Asia, and travel writing. I’ve received grants and fellowships from the Huntington Library Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, the Regional Worlds Program of the Globalization Project (Ford Foundation) at the Chicago Humanities Institute, the Lilly Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, the Vermont Studio Center, VONA, the Centrum Artists Residency, and the Craigardan Writers Residency (forthcoming).
I love (and read!) Jhumpa Lahiri, Megha Majumdar, Amitav Ghosh, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Jose Sarmago, Salman Rushdie, and last but not least, Chimamanda Adichie.
I was sighted at these spots recently:
Invited Workshop and Reading with a focus on Love’s Garden at Dev Samaj College for Women, Panjab University, India, February 2, 2021
Featured Reading at Sacred Grounds in San Francisco, CA, January 13, 2021
Book Launch at Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX, Oct 27, 2020, 7–8 PM CST
Podcasts: Desi Books Episode 21