The more I ponder the placeholder in the Oval Office, the more I feel like an adult child who has learned her father is actually an adulterer and a criminal.
I was once proud to be an American, despite an awareness of our tainted history; I still recognized our country’s unique position in the world: providing help when needed, offering global leadership, welcoming those from other countries — people who over time became as American as any of us. Although I believed somewhat in our “exceptionalism,” I never liked that word. Alas, no more.
The past year’s manifestation of political and cultural ugliness has compelled me to seek answers in our history. What I feel is sick inside. From the Westward Movement eradicating Native Americans, to human slavery of our Civil War, to demonization of Jews, to internment of Japanese Americans, to disrespect shown Mexican Americans, to scapegoating Muslim Americans, to degrading women, we seem intent on denigrating those who do not fit the exact profile of an American, whatever that might be. Tribalism and racism divide us. The NRA and evangelical hypocrisy, guns and God, rule. Our country shouts “America first” and behaves like an empire: military bases or installations in almost 1,000 locations around the world.
Our world-wide presence is a manifestation of our creed: We portray ourselves as the best (of everything) while advocating for our own individuality. But where can this constant pursuit of individuality, of personal expression, take us? When do we recognize that such pursuit may result in losing our sense of community and shared responsibility?
If we can do whatever we want, which is how we seem to define individual rights (i.e., ownership of a war weapon), what about the common good? Are we not using this guise of individualism to behave self-indulgently? Spend a day watching American television/commercials and experience an uncomfortable feeling. Something isn’t right here.
If we want to emerge from this vapid self-indulgence, and if we are truly “exceptional” (and I still don’t like the word), we must compel ourselves to challenge the insanity and chaos that presently define who we are. We must stand for treating one another with civility and decency, realizing that the primary strength of our country is its diversity, its tolerance of various religions and perspectives, its respect for human dignity and kindness. “Good” people do abound: farmers, electricians, auto mechanics, doctors, teachers — even lawyers.
We must commit or re-commit to becoming critical thinkers, capable of assimilating and assessing information to determine truth from lies, fact from fiction, real news from fake news. We must all vote.
And if we can’t abide what we see happening in our country, we must “fix” ourselves, recognizing that without the diversity of races and individuals who make up the fabric of our lives, without the ability to think our way through the swamp we are floundering in, we ultimately will stand alone. And then, not guns, not God, not even our individuality will be able to save us.
Marianne Werner lives in Ashland.