For years I have found it difficult to say, “I’m a proud American.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the number of people who executed their right to vote yesterday, and I’m quite happy with the results. I’m thrilled that so many States voted for marriage equality, and so many people stood up for the rights of all, not just the wealthy few.
But, after an ugly and vicious election campaign, where the voices of other parties were drowned out by the yelling of the big guys and more money was spent on horrific ads then ever (as Andra Watkins so eloquently pointed out in a post called The Campaign Daisy Chain Election Complex), I can’t help but see how broken our system really is, and how far we have strayed from the principles that could make us great . . . could make us truly proud.
In his speech last night, President Obama said,
“This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.”
But that’s not true. Factually we aren’t the wealthiest (although we are among the top ten). We are, technically, the most powerful military, but I personally question why we should be proud of that. As far as university and culture, maybe we are the envy of some people, but we are the laughingstock of others.
Yesterday I read a commentary by German writer Jakob Augstein called “America Has Already Lost Tuesday’s Election”. His basic premise is that, no matter who won, the USA has already lost because “total capitalism is America’s true ruler, and it has the power to destroy the country.” He writes:
“The truth is that we simply no longer understand America. Looking at the country from Germany and Europe, we see a foreign culture. The political system is in the hands of big business and its lobbyists. The checks and balances have failed. And a perverse mix of irresponsibility, greed and religious zealotry dominate public opinion.
The downfall of the American empire has begun. It could be that the country’s citizens wouldn’t be able to stop it no matter how hard they tried. But they aren’t even trying.”
I hope to think this man is wrong, but the reality of the past few months where greed and hatred seemed to rule every discussion indicates there is something severely broken in our country.
I just hope we can fix it.
How do we do that? I don’t know the answers. If I did, I would run for office. I have opinions, of course:
- We need to better provide education that works for everyone, and I don’t mean teaching to the test. I mean providing education that suits the needs of individual learners, incorporates new perspectives, encourages creative and independent thinking, and values the arts as much as the technical skills that can “get you the job.”
- We need to re-evaluate the control of money in our society. In some ways I wish we could live in a world of barter, but I know that’s not realistic. I don’t know how to solve the problem, but as long as money controls power, we have nothing to be proud of.
- We need to recognize that the most powerful thing in existence right now is mother nature (evidence of that devastated New York and New Jersey just last week) and adjust our attitude toward life in a way that makes Mother Nature proud.
- We need to focus on the reality that the world is a crowded place, and we all need to help each other. It can’t be us and them, it has to be WE.
When I spent time living in Japan many years ago, my eyes began to open to the ridiculous-ness of blind national pride–of walking around acting superior simply because we are American. National lines and cultural identities are imaginary. We are born where and when we are born because of . . . I don’t know fate, God, destiny, or perhaps simply a sperm meeting an egg at the right moment in time. We should only be proud of our cultural and/or national identity if we use that identity in a way that makes us deserving of pride.
President Obama went on to say:
“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth.
The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights.
And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.”
I agree with the concept of a shared destiny, if we acknowledge that destiny is shared with every living creature on the earth. I believe we do have obligations to one another including those of love, charity and duty–but those obligations extend in every direction, beyond simply patriotism.
When we have recognized that our position in the world is a privilege and a responsibility; when we have taken steps toward fixing what is broken and making the world a better place for ALL not just for self or for country; when we have dropped the horrendous squabbling over human rights, superiority, power and money; then–and only then–will I truly be able to say “I am proud to be American.”