What does it really mean to be patriotic, to be “American?” I think that, for me, the values and qualities I have always associated with my country are ruggedness, independence, individualism, ingenuity, fairness, tolerance, and basic human decency. I operated under these basic assumptions about my fellow Americans for perhaps the first 40 years of my life.
Even as I travelled around the world, I always felt, deep down, that I was somehow superior or even admired for my “American-ness.” But the once beautiful clothing THIS emperor wore started to fray around the edges when George W. Bush came into power.
I even found myself speaking in hushed tones out in public when traveling outside the US, ashamed of my own government, which had somehow become both simple-minded
There were times after Dubya left office when I managed to get in touch with my American badassness, and when I felt proud to be American again, like under Bill Clinton’s cocky and overly self-assured leadership (boy, was I wrong) or when Barack Obama was first elected President. This general sense of pride managed to linger on for Obama’s entire first term in office. I just forgave him for EVERYTHING that wasn’t going as “planned.” My non-stop internal narrative ran along the lines of, “well, he inherited a bad situation,” or “see the horrible opposition that he’s dealing with!?” Or even, “let’s cut him some slack – at least he’s not another middle-aged white guy, for Pete’s sake!” However, when being brutally honest with myself, I have to admit that I probably didn’t care what Obama REALLY stood for, just so long as he WASN’T a Republican. I’d probably have voted for anyone over more of THAT crap.
In fact, both in retrospective and when I examine this moment in time, Barack Obama may actually be more like a moderate conservative who makes brief (public) splashes into liberal waters, and then jumps right back out, as opposed to a liberal or a progressive. The stuff that I file in my brain under the heading, “liberal” tends to be things like caring about the environment, taking care of those in need, being fair and reasonable, and just not being a fucking REPUBLICAN. Okay, so technically Obama has fulfilled the last one on the list, but hell, so has my cat.
(this really is my cat, by the way)
When I hear about America these days in the foreign press or listen to BBC News or even read Native American newspapers referring to my government, I am left to think that the values that I hold dear and which I believe way down to be true about the US do not reflect the reality of what America signifies to the rest of the world. I don’t know when that changed, or if it always actually was this way, albeit better disguised. And I’m not naïve, or Pollyanna-ish by any means, but when I step back and look at what the United States represents to people in different countries, I can see that we are not even close to being the benevolent saviors and scruffy heroes of days gone by. More likely than not, we are occupiers, enablers, modern day colonizers, and just plain bullies.
And yet, going to local sporting events, or to the movies, or to the grocery store, or walking down a busy street…I look around and see that those people really DO represent what is good in this country. Even when I disagree with a neighbor about religion or who to vote for in an upcoming election, or some other potentially divisive issue, we still care about one another. We still help each other through bad times and I know they’d rush in to save me in a burning building just as I would do for them, and without hesitation.
And so it goes. Or doesn’t.
I genuinely dread the 2016 presidential elections because I’m certain of one thing: the ugliest, most toxic and mean-spirited parts of our collective psyche are magnified and concentrated in the far right and best exemplified by Charles and David Koch. And for those out there who might downplay the brother’s significance, just take a look at what has been the absolute focal point of the US Congress for the past month: The Keystone XL pipeline. Despite all the other issues that can and should be much more important, our elected leaders are tying themselves into slip knots over a segment of pipe, which will lug tar sands oil to more pipe and then, after it’s refined, ship it abroad. If the planet weren’t being pushed to its climatic tipping point, this KXL pipeline would just be plain annoying, however, in light of the fact that scientists around the world are sounding every alarm bell they can grab hold of, telling us that we’ve already gone too far, well, this bunch of metal attached to a shitload of crude takes on a much more menacing significance.
I’m left to wonder how we got so far gone. Gone to the point that we are now being held hostage politically, while being slowly poisoned by fracking and controlled by unseen forces within a government which does not reflect the average person on the street, leaving us with no choices or recourse.
Or, as the saying goes…