I’d Like to Say I’m Proud . . . But I Can’t

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.”

29 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stuart Nager
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 07:44:49

    nicely said

    Reply

  2. Tori Nelson
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 08:20:18

    Hit the nail on the head.

    Reply

  3. lisaspiral
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 08:23:14

    You have eloquently expressed many of my own thoughts and concerns about the state of the country. I do see the election turn out and the many shifts towards civil rights for all as a hopeful outcome. Perhaps all the screaming and spending has woken up some of the sleeping giant of American people. Fingers crossed.

    Reply

  4. Kathryn McCullough
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 08:30:39

    Oh, Lisa, thank you for expressing this so, so eloquently. Part of our problem, as a country, is that we so blindly believe in ourselves. Love what you say about living in Japan and what actually living in the larger world allowed you to see. You are wise, my friend.
    Hugs and love to you, dear LIsa!
    Kathy

    Reply

  5. Andra Watkins
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 08:58:15

    I don’t know when we forgot that we are all Americans, and we all have to be in this together to make our country work. I lost total respect for so many people on both sides of the aisle during this election, and I will never, ever get it back.

    Reply

  6. Taochild
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 09:27:14

    This is exactly what I have believed (and been saying) for years now. But since I have become the cranky old hermit (incidentally this is part of the reason I AM the cranky old hermit) I seem to have lost the ability to be so eloquent, or maybe nobody really wants to listen to cranky old hermits. This is brilliant. And spot on! Enough to make me actually step out of the cave an comment (and share it even). Nice job!!

    Reply

  7. termitespeaker
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 10:10:41

    Very well expressed, Lisa! I’m glad to be finding people who share some of my philosophy! I particularly like the lines: “National lines and cultural identities are imaginary” and “I agree with the concept of a shared destiny, if we acknowledge that destiny is shared with every living creature on the earth.” Some of you may know that I write future history predicated on something called the Mythmaker philosophy. If you’re interested, you can read my posts on the subject, collected here: http://termitewriter.blogspot.com/search/label/Mythmakers. Also, you can read my page entitled “My Future History” while you’re at my blog. It’s an excerpt from my novel “The Termite Queen.”
    The Mythmaker views match closely Lisa’s comments quoted above. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a pessimist. I think Earth will have to suffer a New Dark Age before it adopts these premisesl

    Reply

  8. joannevalentinesimson
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 12:17:23

    Lisa, this is one of your best!

    Reply

  9. thelifeofjamie
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 17:01:58

    I’m not proud to be an American either. There is a reason other countries look at us with such disdain. We are the epitome of that arrogant prick in high school who thinks they are better than everyone else. The rest of the world has evolved however. Great post- I read it first thing this morning and couldn’t help but think the exact same thing.

    Reply

  10. Joan P. Lane
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 18:00:04

    Hear, hear, Lisa. I also read the article by Jakob Augstein. Sobering because it’s so true. I’m not originally from this country. I’ve lived all over the world and have friends and family all over the world. I know how much this past presidential campaign has made us the subject of ridicule. Never has the world watched us more closely. As a proud American I’ve found our public exhibition of the worst of human traits very painful. But there’s hope. Our young people aren’t tainted by the ugliness that has caused such a bitter division in this country. In them lies the future of America.

    Reply

    • Lisa Wields Words
      Nov 07, 2012 @ 18:02:15

      I’d like to think that, but did you see the article about the rash of racist Tweets after the election was over, mostly from high school aged people? I recognize that racism is taught, but its kind of terrifying if our future lies with them. Where are you from originally?

      Reply

      • Joan P. Lane
        Nov 07, 2012 @ 18:44:15

        No, I didn’t see the article, but there were a lot of college kinds tweeting for Obama – many of them were first time voters. Racism might exist in that age group, but I think it’s in pockets – like where I live which is north Florida, but definitely the Deep South. I’m originally from Jamaica. Would be ludicrous being racist there when every color skin can be seen at family gatherings – from blond to black.

        Reply

  11. Deborah Oster Pannell
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 01:28:36

    What a thoughtful and eloquent piece of writing, Lisa. This is one of the best I’ve read here… Thank you for writing it and bravely posting it!

    Reply

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