This was the week the real America reintroduced itself to the rest of the world.
All around the planet, people saw how ordinary Americans live and get by on the streets of their ordinary American suburbs. And no, we’re not talking here about the stereotypes: No smiling suburbanites watering their lawns and waving as neighbors cruise by in fancy front-, rear-, and all-wheel drive SUVs.
We are talking about no-wheel drive vehicles — boats — cruising on suburban streets. For this week, the world got to know ordinary American suburbanites trapped in waist-deep water, frantically waving for help at strangers in scruffy boats that were the most beautiful sight to stranded, desperate eyes.
The world watched news showing strangers helping strangers, saving the lives of whole families, elders, and invalids, hauling them into their small boats. It was a sight people around the planet might not have expected to see after the mind-numbing election campaigns that featured hate-fueled, race-defined politics and politicians yammering about illegals who murder, rape, steal and deal drugs. The world saw a long campaign that convinced many Americans our porous Mexican border was a floodgate — and the flood of illegals was the cause of much that is wrong in America. But a hurricane named Harvey just reminded Texas and all the nation about the hell a real flood can inflict.
And now South Texas has reminded the world about all that really remains strong and good in America’s core.
With the whole world watching, Americans in little, life-giving boats clearly didn’t give a damn whether the hand they were grasping, or body they were lifting, was white, black, brown, or yellow. Nobody was racially profiling or checking for photo IDs, or green cards, or asking whether the person they were saving was a D-voter, or R-voter, or hell-no voter.
Just the week before, the world had seen a very different America — the worst of America — in the news coverage of racial hatred and violence that descended upon Charlottesville. And yes, they heard the worst equivocated by the office-holder the world considers the Symbol of America, who repeatedly equated neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacists with all who were protesting those haters.
And the world heard this unrepentant and downright defiant Symbol of America praise and then presidentially pardon racist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of disobeying a court order requiring the sheriff’s department to end its racial profiling traffic-stops of persons who look like Mexicans to check if they had immigration papers.
This week, in rising to meet Harvey’s challenge, Texas showcased America at its best. And in covering the tragedy, the news media at times did too.
BREAKING NEWS: In Beaumont, Texas, CNN’s Drew Griffin is doing a live standup on the grassy bank of a ravine that, after more than 50 inches of torrential rain, has suddenly become a river. Over the shoulder of his bright red CNN rain jacket, viewers see a white pickup truck floating helplessly down the rapidly flowing neo-river. The driver, who later gave his name as Jerry Summerall, had assumed that the water-filled ravine was a mildly submerged road — and turned right into it. The cab was filling up and the instant-river was seemingly sweeping Summerall to his demise.
Griffin turns, sees the driver’s distress and calls to him: “Hey buddy! … Got a rope?”
Carrying his live mic, Griffin starts running alongside the floating truck. His crew gets a rope, holds one end and tosses the other to the driver. Got it. As Summerall holds on for dear life, Griffin and his crew pull him out his window, through the water. Soon we see this ordinary guy, just another overweight, balding, bespectacled guy who, on this day, is also maybe the luckiest guy on earth — on all fours, on the grassy bank, with the CNN crew that saved his life. In the distance, Griffin says he can see just the white top of Jerry’s doomed pickup that might have become his tomb.
That wasn’t “fake news,” President Donald Trump’s bullying term he especially loves to spit at CNN. And that damn well wasn’t “the enemy of America” — which is Trump’s vile new shorthand for journalists.
It was just one ordinary real American saving the life of a fellow American. A working guy on his job rescuing a working guy in a flooding pickup. It was America saving America. It is who we are and what we do.
And that is what the world saw this week, deep in the heart of Texas.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.