When an American myth fed to our kids collapses, what sound does it make?
Is it the wail of an immigrant child, separated from her parents in a detention center? Is it the explosion of a U.S. drone strike on an Afghani wedding party? Is it George Floyd’s last breath with a cop’s knee on his neck? Is it the mechanical hum of minimum-wage workers packing goods into Amazon boxes? Is it the gurgled pour of white wine into an exhausted mother’s coffee cup? Is it the roar of a hurricane made invincible by global warming? Is it an exasperated chant behind a sign reading “My Body, My Choice”? Is it a gunshot ripping through a supermarket, movie theater, or classroom full of children?
I’ve slowly shed my childish delusions about what it means to be an American.
We aren’t the world’s greatest country. We’re constrained by the greed of our corporate and government leaders.
We aren’t the most free country. We’re plagued with a bloated prison system, virulent racism, and a perverse love of guns.
We don’t have a fair, meritocratic society. Wealth inequality, stagnant wages, and other factors have made upward mobility much harder than it used to be.
We aren’t governed by democracy for the people. We live in an oligarchy, where most of our leaders are handpicked by the wealthiest among us.
We aren’t a land of religious freedom. Non-Christians are treated with suspicion and presidential candidates compete to see who has the biggest Bible.
The patriotism of my public school education now strikes me as manipulative. The best way to produce U.S. workers, soldiers, and parents is to get little girls and boys super pumped about being born here. I was a proud member of the “America, Fuck Yeah” contingent until I realized how American Power considers me: to our government and economy, I am a simple tool to bring glory, competitiveness, and (ideally) babies to our miserable country.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate America. In fact, with all of the collapsed myths of my early education, I’m reminded of James Baldwin’s words: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
I just want our country and culture to evolve with integrity, liberty, peace, reason, acceptance of differences, and love. I’m not a Christian, but Jesus Christ would agree with me on this.
WWJD? He would support the love and marriage of LGBTQ+ folks. He would advocate for women’s bodily autonomy. He would welcome immigrant children rather than putting them in border cages. He would want affordable housing, education, and healthcare. He would champion a wider distribution of wealth and tax policies that don’t favor the obscenely rich. He would want to protect the environment. He would condemn American drone strikes. And he damn sure wouldn’t have a hard-on for AR-15s.
I wish he were here to steer some of his followers back in the right direction. His name is being invoked to prop up many American myths that perpetuate hate, oppression, and violence. And until our culture outgrows its arrogance, intolerance, and anti-science stupidity, we’ll continue to have the leaders we deserve: folks who do nothing when a classroom full of children is massacred.