I’m probably more naïve about my own nation and its political meanderings than I ought to be, but it’s been a long time since I felt a rush of pride or emotion about my country. I still display the American flag on special days and am still moved enough to stand when I hear The Star Spangled Banner, but that old patriotic zeal, the kind that can bring tears, has been absent from me for a while.
There are two Americas again, not so very unlike the two from 1861 (yes, even before my birth), immersed again in a wave of rancor that continues to divide us more and more over our differences in politics, religion, race, language, education, and money. It seems at times that many folks now expect America to be a homogenized vanilla ice cream sundae, no chocolate, other flavors or colors allowed. A terrifying nostalgia for earlier times (especially the post-war 1950’s) has consumed at least half the nation with a paranoia that has transformed ignorance and fear into things controlled by puppeteers in Washington but apparently providing too an adrenalin rush from politically self-righteous zeal of unimaginable power that brings to mind George Orwell’s 1984, which he published in 1949.
Accusation, blame, misleading rhetoric in short, easy-to-digest sentences with a fifth grade vocabulary, vile language, unwarranted accusations (from both sides) have created a nation at war with itself, a nation I can hardly recognize, one that makes the America from 1973 under President Nixon look like an episode of Sesame Street.
The twisted language of silly slogans and name-calling have replaced balance, restraint, and even truth. It’s almost like a middle school playground, where whoever can come up with the meanest and most memorable insult wins. The laugh-track is broken with what too many Americans seem to see as heroic figures totally on their side, figures, however, that turn out to be remakes of Don Rickles and Archie Bunker whose verbal harpoons were amusingly revealing of the underbelly of America but which didn’t take the place of civil discourse and intelligent, constructive debate. The laugh-track has become the voice of half the nation, while the rest of the world sits back, wringing its hands as it watches us implode.
I long to feel again the shared love of my country, not as though on a team from some gameshow, where winning is the only concern, but with a love that we used to feel even when we disagreed. I long for intelligent debate, based upon facts and some degree of civility, not the resentment and enmity that are almost becoming accepted hallmarks of discussion in and out of politics. I don’t know if it’s too late yet to go back to when winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered in the wider picture, where reason created some sense of balance instead of giving the constant expectation of what is snide and fragmented.
I still love my country but feel strongly that something is at stake. We’re all at a crossroad, even as I write this, where we must, together, decide how to rediscover or reinvent “the land of the free.” JB