The Legacy of Ralph Nader

It’s unfortunate that Ralph Nader is remembered as the “spoiler of the 2000 election” these days, rather than as “the founder of modern consumer protection.” It used to be the case that automobiles were extremely unsafe to operate. There were no regulations that we, nowadays, take for granted like seat belts and airbags. He fought against intimidation from General Motors as he laid bare the dangers of the automobile industry: private detectives hired by General Motors followed Nader into a bank, and looked over his shoulder to read what he was writing on a deposit slip. Furthermore, he helped carry out independent research on various federal agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. He was a hero and a household name for Americans in the 70s. Yet, we deride him as “a spoiler and a radical.”

Such amnesia is a key feature of the United States according to Gore Vidal. We have forgotten the imperialist efforts of the United States and its deadly consequences. We have forgotten the crucial role of labor unions in securing good wages and high pensions. We have forgotten the deeply racist history of this country. We have forgotten the horrors of back-alley abortions before Roe v. Wade. What must we forget next? Bernie Sanders’ popularist campaign that was totally funded by small contributions from ordinary people? A habitable climate? Freedom from corporate tyranny?

America: a home that forsakes its brethren, sisters, mothers, and fathers.

Growing up in America was tough. I was teased for smelling like seaweed, resembling Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee. None of my heroes resembled me, we ate different food, and my grandmother couldn’t speak a word of English. I felt left out.  All of this changed, when I moved to Korea in 1999. There, I wasn’t teased for my appearance anymore. Instead, I was praised for speaking perfect English! All seemed gay and rosy until I realized something: I was different. My passport and birth certificate had a bald eagle, my Korean was shoddy, and I didn’t hate Black people. In the late 90’s, Koreans enjoyed making fun of African tribes, donning black face.

Before I came to Korea, my one and only friend was a kid named Aven. He came from a Black family in Philadelphia. His name was probably spelled Evan, but we were young and we were very sure about Aven. When I was made fun of due to my Asian origin, Aven came to my rescue. He was my hero. Once, he, his little brother, and I pretended we were pirates. Of course, we had to resort to violence and brandish brittle sticks with verve. During the climax of our battle, Aven’s little brother fervently ran towards a tall Atlas cedar. When Aven saw the impending catastrophe, he leapt forward and pushed his brother away. As a result, a beetling branch poked his right eye. By the end of the week, he was donning an eye patch; I exclaimed, “You became a true pirate!” Aven and I were brothers, the first sibling I met in America. When I told him I was going to Korea, he cried for three days, praying to God to undo my departure. Paying homage to our great friendship, the username of most of my accounts is ave1125 – November 25th is my birthday. With such a history, I couldn’t fully empathize with my peers who made fun of kids who had dark skin –they were teased for resembling a “깜둥이 (nigger).”

Despite the initial unease, I grew accustomed to Korea. Youth absorbs language and culture exponentially unlike its senile counterpart. I spoke Korean perfectly – though my reading comprehension was still a bit shabby. I had many friends, and I especially shone in my English class. Amidst my pubescent rustling, my parents presented me a plane ticket: I was to live with my uncle in California. I always knew I was American, I was referred to as the American kid by my friends, but it was no longer the intimate home where I played with Aven – it was a distant memory.

My uncle and I struggled to grow on each other. He was strict and organized; I wasn’t. I scuffled with the disparity between my world and the other Californians’ – this included my cousins. My uncle scrambled through his parenting toolkit, for he had another unruly child to foster. I also couldn’t decide on whom to model myself after: I wanted to be a gangster, a skater, a bohemian, and an Asian dandy. I wasn’t sure where I belonged to: I wanted to distance myself from the Fobs (Fresh off the boat), yet I didn’t really fit in with the White kids. So, I hung out with the Mexican and Black kids. I especially admired a cool, snazzy pair of twins called Jacob and Josh. Along with Paddy from Kenya and Paul from Korea, I carved my own path – accompanied by hours of Tupac. This obviously didn’t sit with my uncle very well. It didn’t help that Paul’s older brother Phil was an infamous delinquent.

Despite our discords and conflicts, my uncle and I grew very fond of each other; especially, by the end of his life. His death hit me very hard: he was my anchor. His death made me regret how I never lived up to his standards of intellectualism. Thus, I made a vow to make my uncle proud. Out of all of my interests, my fondness for philosophy always seemed to strike a chord with him. Hence, my interest in philosophy drastically increased – how I lost my philosophy major was also an incentive. It is in the nature of philosophy to incite an analytic mind. It is also common to seek for answers to life’s big questions from philosophy. With the help of philosophy and my friends from Randolph and Berklee, I found stability – I didn’t feel left out anymore. I loved my friends, I knew my country very well, I had a concrete quest for knowledge before me, and I was more certain of myself. I even felt a sense of belonging, until I read the news that is…

Donald Trump and the rest of GOP wish to harass our Mexican brethren with stricter immigration laws. Trump intends to build a wall on the border. Ted Cruz blames police brutality on Obama rather than systemic racism – a denigration of the Black Lives Matter movement. Mike Hukabee and the GOP wish to go back to the good days, when women had no rights. They believe it is sinful for a woman to have access to planned parenthood. Jeb Bush condemns Asian immigrants for having children in his country; he believes that children of immigrants like myself shouldn’t have citizenships. My country, my dear home, has turned into a monster that forsakes its brethren, sisters, mothers, and fathers. It has forsaken the telos of a home, which is to house and welcome its family. It renounces anyone who isn’t “mega-rich”: Jacob and Josh, my dear Lisa, Paddy, Paul, myself, and Aven. It repudiates its Christian virtues by worshiping an embodiment of Greed, Lust, Pride, and Wrath: Donald Trump.

Although I’ve christened America as my home and history, I’m rejected by it. The place I spent most of my years and efforts now repels me. I’m bullied for my Asian origin again. This time I don’t have Aven to come to my rescue. This time it is up to me, my brothers, and sisters to uphold the legacy of our mothers and fathers – of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, of John Rawls and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is now our turn to make change happen. Lincoln and Jeong Jo of Joseon (정조) once proclaimed, “we, the people, are the rightful masters” of this country. They are right. It is our duty to fashion a home that corresponds to its telos: a home that welcomes its brethren, sisters, mothers, and fathers.