Updated: Sep 2, 2020
The United States is complicated. This country is both sacred and profane, philosophical and commercial, hard headed and soft hearted. As Americans we are the problem and we solve the problem. This is a country that successfully won two world wars. Post war the United States rebuilt our shattered enemies. We bombed the cities of our enemies and then buried them in canned peaches post war. Perhaps appropriately the great wound of this country was the Civil War we fought with ourselves. It is perhaps, much harder to forgive a brother --even a metaphorical brother-- than it is the enemy who speaks another language. And yet, the United States did a phenomenal job re-knitting itself after the wound of the Civil War, after the horror of President Lincoln's assassination. America is good at healing, at fixing problems, at overcoming the fissures within. Americans are good at being American. And, at heart, we are both irritating and amazing.
Not that long ago a new acquaintance who will probably become a dear and treasured friend saw some new --actually old, I bought them at a garage sale-- books I'd just gotten. One of those boxed sets of "see America" travel books published after WWII. Fold out maps and red and blue covers, every state in depth and color. I bought the whole set for two dollars because I love maps, and I love road trips and I love America... the endless lure of the open road and seeing the places that are off the freeway. Excited she said, "You cherish America don't you?"
Cherish America. It seemed a bit personal... I actually try to avoid using the word "I" when I write. A good university program --and despite being a dreaded Millennial I was privileged enough to accidentally still have a few old guard professors who believed in the old standards of promoting facts, not feelings, erasing the personal, being serious-- branded me with a desire to be as invisible and impersonal as possible when writing something serious. The United States seems to be about as serious as it gets to me. And... just as the message that "the personal is political" has always seemed a bit selfish to me I have also always thought there is no room for "me" in patriotism. Patriotism should not be political. If you are a citizen of the United States you are a citizen and partisanship should play no role in that. And yet... my new friend was correct. I do cherish America. And that is a fundamentally American sort of thing to do because, from the inception of this country, the United States has always been about individual choice. We are a nation of individuals. We are a nation of individuals because this country was created by individuals. The personal matters in American politics because "I" --and you, and the lady down the street-- are citizens, individuals. We are people, not cogs in a machine or subjects of a greater power.
The United States has from its inception as a “country” been a balancing act. We are a union of states, a nation of individuals. Our superficial differences have always been so vast that in 1787 the United States seemed like little more than a delusional experiment to “educated” outsiders. In 2020 the blogosphere —where, it seems, all the “educated” all-knowing Monday Morning quarterbacks spend their time sharing their predictions— is filled with naysayers eager to label the United States a “failed” experiment.
Opinions are, well, opinions. Some opinions are more valid than others. Personally, in my opinion, an opinion rooted in facts is generally more valid than an opinion based on feelings. (Or, worse, an opinion based on someone else’s feelings.)
The fact is that very few of the educated outside observers of 1787 knew enough about the colonies, the states or even a handful of representative Americans to have enough facts to base an opinion on anything other than feelings. I suspect —I don’t “know”— that relatively few of the naysayers of 2020 have enough grounding in the “facts” of America to form opinions about our country that are based on anything except feelings.
There is a feeling floating around that the United States somehow represents all the evil in the world. This is NOT a feeling based in fact. (Unless you prefer the "facts" produced by a political hack in Tehran.) Data is not actual knowledge. Trends are not necessarily representative.
Unfortunately we face an ugly trend in America right now. We face a trend of fashionable hate. It is fashionable to hate the history of America, the sacred as well as the profane. A few weeks ago an angry mob --an angry mob that looked like they got lost on their way to Coachella-- decided to tear down a statue of General Grant in San Francisco because they felt he was a symbol of the Confederacy. Forgive me if I metaphorically step away from the keyboard for a moment to mutter a few four letter words. The only printable word I feel like using right now is "MORONS!!!!!!" For the record, the fact is that General Grant --he was a General before he was a President-- was a Union General and, along with Sherman, primarily responsible for the strategy that broke the back of the Confederacy. He was also, rather spectacularly, a man who saw the individualism in his fellow men --including men who were not born free or white-- and was willing to sacrifice his own well being to honor the individualism of others. I suspect the mob who tore Grant's statue down has never sacrificed anything other than their own dignity, and never seen the individuality of anyone other than the person they see as they pose duck-lipped for a selfie.
Sometimes you need to look beyond yourself to really see yourself. You can get lost in a world of selfies and filters. And that is tragic. This country is about individuals, not mobs.
For my part I needed a stranger's words to see myself as part of my own story. (Maybe it is finally time to escape the rules of the ivory tower... where the old guard erases the personal and the new barbarians in charge of academia do nothing but talk about the personal.) I am a citizen of the United States and for no other reason than that my voice is a part of this story too.... My opinions matter as much as the opinions of the oh-so-sensitive-and-fragile mob. (They may even matter more... because many of my opinions are rooted in actual facts rather than shrieking feelings.).
My opinions are not fashionable. I'm not a media influencer. I'm not even a social media intern. (That, btw, is apparently a thing now. Not a paying thing... but a thing.) But... I have a mind, an education, rights.... yes, we still have the First Amendment in this country. (That whole "free speech thing" still matters.) I have the right to think and speak. If the mob wants to shriek hate and pout when they aren't "respected" well.... I have the right to call them morons. I have the right to talk about the facts. I have a right to read what I want and think what I want and speak my mind. I have a right to cherish America.
You have that right as well.... If you cherish America you aren't part of a mob. You probably are busy trying to figure out how to navigate shopping for groceries and paying the bills in the combined tedium and fear of the age of Covid-19. The mob is louder than you are... more lawless, more crazy. They are also, inherently, sad people. OMG all the music festivals were cancelled this year! The mob has hate. They have fear too.... You... you have the option to cherish the things you love. So if you love America, cherish her. Say it out loud. Do just one positive thing today. And if the only thing you can do is mutter four letter words at the television, realize you are not alone. You are not the only one who cherishes America.