Make America Ok Again


I read an article by Damon Linker from The Week. With some trepidation. Normally his writings make my toes curl. They are beyond self-righteous paeans, aimed at the George Clooney Wing of Democratic Anxiety. But his essay’s title catches my attention: “This is the America we deserve”.

For once. I agree with him. At this moment in our collective history, I think we are precisely the America we deserve.

Before I explain why. And also, why I disagree with Damon’s analysis, although not his conclusion. Before all of that. Let me deal with the term ‘America.’ Which is not as tangential a point as it may at first appear.

Yesterday was Columbus Day. A day which appears to be having less and less relevance. A day when people remember that an Italian, funded by the Spanish Royal Family, claimed to have ‘discovered’ a land, already settled by an indigenous people.

Columbus didn’t name it ‘America.’ He didn’t found ‘America.’ He landed on an island in the Caribbean. He never set foot on what we now call North America. And he spent much of his later years also exploring Central and South America.

The word ‘America’ comes from a lesser-known navigator and explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. Who made the decision? A cartographer. Like Columbus, Vespucci traveled to the New World (first in 1499 and again in 1502). Unlike Columbus, Vespucci wrote about it.

Vespucci’s accounts of his travels were published in 1502 and 1504 and were widely read in Europe. Columbus was also hindered because he thought he had discovered another route to Asia; he didn’t realize America was a whole new continent. Vespucci, however, realized that America was not contiguous with Asia. He was also the first to call it the New World, or Novus Mundus in Latin, in his books.

Er. Thank you for the history lesson, Geoff. You’re welcome. But, there’s a point. Which goes to the heart of the ‘American’ character. Much like our current President (which is one reason why we deserve him), most ‘Americans’ are not that concerned with accuracy. They prefer the story. The boast. The self-righteous self-aggrandizement.

And so. We celebrate Columbus ‘discovering’ America. With no thought for the settlers already here. And we merrily call it ‘America.’ Without a thought for the fact that most maps call it ‘North America.’

Columbus and Amerigo explored many other parts of a continent, all of which is known as ‘America.’ Yet, it is only we inhabitants of the United States of North America who abrogate to ourselves the term ‘American.’

And here’s the rub. It ain’t just a white or a European thing. For this demonstration of supremacist nationalism, all residents of the United States of North America bear equal blame. Whether legal or not, all such residents are happy to use the epithet ‘American’ once they set foot here.

Which illustrates a further aspect of why, right now, I think we are the America we deserve to be. Not only do we always enjoy presenting ourselves in the best light possible. That ‘we’ relates to everyone. And it ain’t always just a ‘best light’ thing. If we can’t be the best on our own merits, we have no problem being ‘best’ by dissing someone else.

So. We abrogate the term ‘American’ solely to ourselves. Regardless of the fact that there is a whole continent and some 55 countries and dependent territories which are also ‘American.’

We claim to be the greatest country the world has ever known. Even if that is always true. It is the manner of the claim which underlines our national character. None of us. White, black, brown, yellow, red. Could ever settle for merely being ‘as good as,’ or ‘ok.’ Nope. We have to be the greatest. And when we think we are slipping. We elect a rogue who promises that he can ‘Make America Great Again.’

Now. Any outside, unbiased observer might conclude that, with so much emotion invested in our singular greatness, there would be a singular viewpoint as to what makes us great. Um. Not so much.

For while we are all happy erroneously to abrogate to ourselves the single description ‘American’ once our feet touch the soil, we’re none too successful at actually melding ourselves into a singular strand of ‘American.’

For why, I do not know. Another essay, for another time. But we delight in almost immediately dividing ourselves into sub-categories of ‘American.’ It is as if, at the very moment we recognize our own ‘Americanism,’ we look up, see a different color, hear a different language, experience a different culture, and demand separation at the very same time as we yearn for melting pot.

And so we build our own walls. Immediately. And become British-Americans, Indian-Americans, Chinese-Americans; gay Americans, black Americans, Christian Americans; liberal, conservative, AltRight; supremacist, oppressed, disadvantaged.

We divide ourselves with railway lines. Neighborhoods. Gated communities. Various shades of red and blue. And worst of all, with self-righteous polemic, that refuses to accept any kind of social or political communality. But rather demands that our very own individual ‘greatness’ can only exist if all others are minimized and characterized as being ‘wrong.’

We deserve, not because we earn. But because we exist. And if we do not have. Then someone else took it away. Undeservedly. We can only be right today, because someone else was evil yesterday. We divide. We conquer. We polarize. We demonize. And if we cannot do it on merit. Then we lie. All of us. Every day.

And that is why we are the ‘America’ we deserve.

It is why we elected the monster we deserve. For he knew precisely to whom he was appealing. He knew exactly what would happen when he said: you deserve; and if you do not have, I will find someone to blame; and someone from whom to take. If that person is already here, we will get rid of them. If that person is abroad, we will push them aside. I will give you freedom to hate. To acquire. To control. Without regard for consequence. Follow me.

How did he know that we would react as positively as we did to this message? Because, leaving aside all of the remainder of the history of the United States of North America, very specifically, that is what we have been doing these past forty years or so. ‘We.’ All of us. All ‘Americans.’

We have been giving ourselves permission to be who we want to be. Believe what we want to believe. Behave how we want to behave. Take what we want. Own what we want. Whether or not it is ours. Whether or not we can afford it. For no reason other than the fact that we are ‘American.’ And we deserve.

And we have done all this regardless of the impact upon others. Regardless of consequence. To ourselves. To our neighbors. To our friends. To our enemies. Regardless of resulting debt, whether financial, emotional or political.

But it’s been worse than ‘regardless.’ Very often, we have had full ‘regard.’ ‘Regard’ for what we have recognized has been in our way. ‘Regard’ to express our own self-righteous objection. Whether that self-righteous objection has been properly informed or not. And then precocious disregard, as we have arrogantly tossed aside what has been in our way. Domestically, and abroad.

All of which has left us a populace now at war with ourselves. And pretty much with the rest of the world.

What is the answer? Simple. Stop thinking we are always entitled. As individuals and as a nation. Stop believing we are the greatest. Ditch the nationalist and supremacist narcissism that leads to toxic convictions like the one that says we are the only country on this continent permitted to call itself ‘America.’

Truly take to heart the fact that there are six and a half billion other people in the world. With whom we have to live in harmony. Three hundred million inhabitants of this country, who have to find a way to live together. And who have to learn how to disagree in a civil manner.

Accept that it’s ok to be ‘ok.’ That other folk can be ‘ok,’ too. Without it taking anything away from us. All of us. Each of us. That would be a good start.

Along with realizing that the blame lies with all United States Americans. Not just the one in the White House. He is merely the reflection of the rest of us. A reflection of the America we have all become. The America we currently deserve to be …

Published in: on November 10, 2017 at 1:55 am  Leave a Comment  

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