People sure do love their national identities. Many countries base their sense of being special on their food, their music, their charming customs, their unique culture. However, there is no end of trouble that gets started when the people on one side of an arbitrarily-assigned border assert their superiority over the people on the other side. Take Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries as a f’rinstance.
It has to be said, though, that no nation comes close to the high level of self-regard that (too many) people in the United States have for themselves and their Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. And what is this “American exceptionalism” based on? The empty notion that every person can succeed in this country or the fact that we’ve impoverished massive swaths of the country to fund the most powerful military juggernaut in human history?
We are taught — ok, indoctrinated — in the myth that this is the Land of Opportunity from the first grade and that lie gets deeper and stinkier with each successive grade level.
An angry little boy with a magnifying glass
If the grownups of this world had their say, the United States would get a long time-out and no Internet. Perhaps the best they can do — since that’s not an option — is to avoid us like, yes I’m going there, the plague.
Having gobbled up the bulk of the continent (from sea to shining sea), the U.S. has long enjoyed the kind of insulation from invasion that beleaguered countries throughout our violent world dream about. By the time any other major world power might have considered invading this country, the Mother of all Wars and her offspring were shattering Europe and sending border-breaking waves throughout Asia and Russia as well.
That meant that our perpetually confused, truculent young country had all the time and resources it needed to arm itself to the teeth. Don’t tread on us!
In the aftermath of Europe’s blood bath, this country fashioned itself as the Savior of Democracy. It was an admittedly smart move to pour resources into restoring Germany’s and Japan’s economies after the second War to End All Wars. But while we were doing that, paradoxically enough, our intelligence agencies were destabilizing countries throughout Central and South America. Got to root out them Commies, don’tcha know! This country so often behaves like a nine-year-old who has discovered he can burn ants to death using a magnifying glass.
But Americans, we’re still so very special!
First, what is it with people in the United States calling themselves Americans? Excuse me, you darling little flag-wavers, you live in one country in North America. Yes, it’s big and it does have amber waves of grain, but it’s hardly the sum total of America. Get out your smartphone and check out Google Maps. See that? There’s another entire continent called South America. Oh, wait, and see? Central America, too. You’re talking roughly 964,920,000 people, all of whom are Americans.
Who issued a decree sometime around 1850 stating that Peruvians, Chileans, Panamanians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Canadians, and people in all those other American countries may not call themselves Americans? Ok, true, calling ourselves United Statesians is unwieldy.
But we’re the ones always crowing about how creative and innovative and forward-thinking we are. Let’s work on that, k?
Yes, indeed, when it comes to laudable character traits, no one tops the good old U.S. of A., my friends. We’re the bravest, most resourceful, strongest, best looking, smartest, kindest, most honest, hardest working, most decent, and most freedom-loving people anywhere. Ask any of those free spirits who insisted on having their annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota earlier this month. They’ll be happy to tell you just how great this country is, Godammit.
It’s probably better to hear this from me, a Fellow American
Real Americans are not going to believe any of those cheese-eating freedom-haters from that Socialist haven, Europe. And Asians? Please. Nope, not going to give them the time of day. Chances are they’re not going to listen to me either. That’s fine. I don’t pay much attention to anyone who thinks that Make America Great Again is a good idea.
But I’m still going to climb right up here on my soapbox and let the good people of the United States know that they ain’t all that.
My credentials: I was born in Pennsylvania to parents who had also been born in this country (I’m assuming here because it’s still something of a mystery who my father was) whose parents had been born in this country. My Great-Grampa Nick came over from Italy as a teenager and did that man ever love this country. I probably would have myself if it hadn’t been for those tiresome duck and cover exercises in grade school and then the war in Viet Nam.
Every bit of wealth that this country has accumulated since at least 1619 was built upon the free labor of people kidnapped from their homes in Africa and brought to this country. Yes, the descendants of those original slaves may have been “freed” during the Civil War — aka The War of Northern Aggression to many yet — but in no way have they ever been compensated for the almost inconceivable wrong done to their ancestors. In fact, Black people in this country continue to be deprived of everything that makes America Great. For shame!
Oh, and then there’s the inconvenient fact of the mass genocide committed by generations of European “explorers” that cleared the way for the initial invasion of this part of the world. So there’s that, too.
We are not free or brave and this is not the Land of Opportunity except for a select few who were born to the right people at the right time.
We are sadly overweight and burdened with insane levels of debt. We die prematurely because of the way we eat, drive everywhere, smoke and drink, and neglect even the most basic health care routines. We’re riddled with diabetes, anxiety, auto-immune disorders, obesity, addiction and alcoholism, mental illness, and scabies.
We’ve been sold a narrative that tells us that it’s what we own, the possessions we accumulate, our jobs, our associations with the powerful that define our success in life.
Know what? Rugged individualism is a crock.
The billionaires rigging the economy in their favor didn’t get to where they are by being rugged individualists. They network like crazy. Their parents were networking on their behalf to get them into the best pre-schools. They enjoy their own rarified version of socialism where their mistakes are cleaned up using our tax dollars.
They laugh at us.
We’ll never be great until ditch this whole notion of greatness. We’ll be healed and made whole only by caring for everyone. The commodification of everything has turned us into dog-eat-dog savages who think it’s just fine that those people over there are the ones dying of COVID-19 which is just a liberal hoax anyway.
Look at how the grownups are doing things. There are no Utopias but check out Europe’s response to the pandemic compared to ours. Universal health care has to be a human right, not a way for wealthy families to get wealthier. With technology disrupting so many industries and making so many jobs obsolete, we need to really look at this working-for-a-living model. It doesn’t work and hasn’t for decades. There are never going to be enough decent-paying jobs to get our late, lamented middle class back on its feet.
Stop buying the bullshit stories being spoon-fed by liars and tax cheats.
We’re not great. We’ve never been great. But we’re a lot better than this. There are true strengths in this country. Bringing generations of immigrants together has been a genius stroke even if every new arriving group gets crapped on by everyone who got here ahead of them. Once we stop congratulating ourselves on how — there’s that word again — great we are, we might have a chance to be a decent bunch of people.
Call me crazy, but I think we can do it.
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