(Thanks to Chris Brosovic for the inspiration)
[Today] we celebrate the birth of our nation. Land of the free and all that. Too bad as a nation we are still struggling with ‘minor’ things like allowing our citizens to vote. One would think that making sure all citizens can participate in the democratic process would be important. Alas it is not so. Quite the opposite actually.
Today is Independence Day, the holiday where we celebrate the declaration of our independence from England (I wonder how many Americans know even that much of our history?) On July 4th, we get to celebrate all of the wonderful things that make America unique: freedom, economic strength, democracy, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum…wonderful things all. Before most of the nation gets caught up in our annual 24 hours of self-congratulations, I want to reflect on the whole picture…and as with the totality of anything, there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good is that we’re Americans, and we’re blessed to live in the greatest and (arguably the) freest country in the world. Yes, we have our problems, but if you doubt America’s greatness, just take a look at how many from around the world are desperately trying to get into our homeland. America is still the dream destination for most of the rest of the world. This may not be a perfect vision of Paradise, but if you’re on the outside looking in from places like Somalia or Iraq or [insert name of struggling Third World country here], it looks pretty damned good.
We’re blessed with resources, ingenuity, and a system that encourages and rewards innovation. America is still a place where ideas thrive and those who dream can work to make those dreams come true.
The bad is that intolerant, unthinking, reflexive patriotism is making a comeback, in the same way that saying “I support our troops” is a de riguer statement completely devoid of meaning or value. It’s expected, and to express a sentiment that even tangentially indicates a less than knee-jerk adoration of our men and women in uniform is heretical. I’m not a patriot, but I do love my country, and I feel blessed to be an American. That said, the idea of American Exceptionalism is pure, unadulterated crap. If you look at our tax system or our healthcare system it’s difficult to make a convincing argument for American superiority. There many things exceptional about this country, but let’s not pull a muscle patting ourselves on the back in a paroxysm of self-congratulation.
America is a wonderful place…but are we exceptional in the sense that we should consider our homeland to be superior to other countries? Of course not. We’re no better- or worse- than Norway, or Germany, or Canada…or any number of other countries. To consider America to be better simply because we believe it to be so is the height of arrogance, the sort that gave birth to the phrase “ugly American.” We can be justifiably proud that we live in a great country, but America is one of several countries that can be similarly described.
Pride of place is a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with being proud to be an American. Many would gladly change places with us. That said, we have no cause to hold ourselves to be better than other countries, and the idea of “American Exceptionalism” is indicative of supreme arrogance and a surfeit of ignorance of our place in the world.
The ugly is that we’ve evolved into a country that tolerates ever greater income inequality and condones treating women, minorities, and homosexuals as “less than” and unworthy of the same rights heterosexual White Males take for granted. We stand idly by while Republicans in Red states do everything within their power to tilt the political/electoral playing field in their direction. Between Voter ID and other laws that are thinly-veiled attempts to disenfranchise minorities and the poor, Republicans have stooped to cheating to achieve what they fear they can no longer win at the ballot box.
Worse is our rapid descent into what can only accurately be described as an idiocracy. The Far Right has worked hard to cultivate a culture that denigrates science, ignores empirical evidence, and ridicules the truth if it doesn’t fit their narrow agenda and preconceived ideas. (“God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is poor governing philosophy.) The Tea Party, grounded as it is in conspiracy theories, racism, hatred of Liberals and women, and a pathological unwillingness to compromise, seeks to drag America kicking and screaming back to the 16th century.
Aiding and abetting in the creation of our idiocracy is Fox News Channel (and by “news” they mean anything that makes Liberals and The Black Guy in the White House © look bad. Truth and objective journalism are considered to be of far less importance than advancing a Far Right agenda predicated on racism, fear-mongering, and a stunning lack of integrity.
I realize that some may read this and accuse me of being anti-American or some such nonsense. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love my country, and I’m proud to be an American. I’m also a realist who believes that if we’re going to celebrate the truly wonderful we must also acknowledge the other end of the spectrum.
I hope that all y’all will have a safe and enjoyable Independence Day. Celebrate wisely, if for no other reason than for at least one day we might as well put our problems aside- that’s “put them aside,” NOT “ignore them altogether.” Tomorrow we need to get back to figuring out how to make America a better, more honest, more equal, and more compassionate place…and there’s much to be done.
WE DESERVE BETTER.