On my way to work I saw one of those ubiquitous bumper stickers saying Proud to be an American. I used to feel that way too, even if such overt chest-thumping seems gauche and overblown. After all, America came to fight and win in two World Wars. We have had our troubles, but we were one of the first multi-racial societies to integrate, and if we were generous to a shattered Europe with the Marshall Plan. We put the first Man on the Moon, even if many still pretend it was all faked. We meddled in many countries, but never joined in the colonialist boom. I could go on but by and large I used to view my country as enlightened, modern, basically principled and screwed up a lot less then most of the other great powers in history.
What was I smoking?
It was so easy to overlook little things like America's role in overthrowing elected democracies in Guatemala, Iran and Chile. We were scared during the Cold War right? Vietnam was a major screw up, but we learned from that war didn't we? Hey, we belived in Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion and we didn't torture people.
Repeat: What was I smoking?
In Iraq it turned out that we do torture people, and still lots of Americans whose ideas of proper interrogation techniques come from watching too many episodes of 24 have decided that all we need to do is rename certain torture techniques "enhanced interrogation techniques". And when you point that out someone says "We're at war!" Well so was Japan when they decided to waterboard a bunch of Americans, for which we prosecuted them after the war. Do we believe in Freedom of Religion? Sure, so long as it's our religion. Right wing churches claim discrimination but they're certainly happy enough to tell everyone else how to live, or else. Appparently "as ye sow so shall ye reap" has become passe. Lacks the right ideological cues. But I guess we're different just because we're Americans. We're just too cool for school.
We like to talk about it, but we don't really like it unless the elections go our way. Today Tea Party whackos talk about 'Second Amendment Solutions to an election result they don't like, conveniently forgetting they gave us a result we didn't like which ended in total disaster. Did the left ever speak of armed insurrection? Not once. Sure a few mentioned impeachment, but it never happened as we're smart enough to know incompetence isn't an impeachable offense. And this after the Clinton witch hunts. And if you're say a Senatorial candidate who screws up royally during an interview, well your free speech rights are being infringed on if someone actually calls you on it.
The truth is we've become a people who believe first and foremost in What We Want to Hear. Glenn Beck is clearly insane, but millions take him seriously because he tells them what they want to hear. But he's not the only guy, hunt around and you'll find someone out there telling you what You Want to Hear. I always thought the definition of someone who was an adult was someone who did what needed to be done regardless of whether he liked doing it. But no, we define sacrifice during war time as putting on a yellow ribbon and heading to the shopping mall. Unless you're one of the poor bastards over there dodging bullets. You deserve a beer, a big screen TV, and well, if our consumption fetish produced a big hangover during 2007-8, well that was then. Two years ought to be more then enough to erase a nigh-depression and a deficit and give us tax cuts we can use for that new big screen TV.
The truth is we've become a petty nation of people too lazy to actually study a question before opening our mouths. Our principles are firmly held and immutable until things get tough when we redefine our actions to pretend we believe in something. Americans don't need to change, but you certainly do. Shout something loudly enough and others will surely come to agree with you while compromise is for losers. Listening is for others.
If I sound bitter, it is the bitterness of a disillusioned idealist. If America is something special, then our greatness must be based on what we are doing right now, not sometime in an idealized past. If we are a principled nation, then we must live by our principles even when they make us uncomfortable. Freedom isn't for the popular, the mainstream. It's for the little guy, the different guy, the person who challenges our beliefs. Offering them freedom, listening to them is how we show our character. But America has gotten away from those things. We're too interested in being told we're great just as we are, that we are the righteous but without any calls to actually live up to our words. My pride in my country will return when our words mean something. Until then, we're just another group of malcontents who happen to have a really freaking big military.
I hate to tell you, but "as ye sow so shall ye reap" will never really become passe. It's reality, and America has a bitter harvest ahead.