As I hear the sound of fireworks booming in the distance, not far from my suburban Dallas home, I contemplate the value and wisdom of patriotism. Independence Day is slowly winding down here in the U.S. If you’ve looked closely at my Gravatar photo, you can see I’m wearing a vest in the emblem of the American flag. It’s quite clear to most that I’m proud to be a citizen of this country. It hasn’t been easy, though, these past few years to sustain that type of joy. But, national pride is like being in a relationship: you love the other person most of the time; other days, you just want to walk away and say to hell with it. No one is perfect, and therefore, neither is any nation perfect.
Since the turn of the century, the U.S. has come under attack – not so much from without as from within. The multiple terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 changed most everyone here. But, as the nation beamed in its refreshed vanity, I suspected some would use that as an excuse to denigrate anything that seemed remotely different and anyone who didn’t fully see their point of view. I just didn’t know it would get this bad.
The U.S. is embroiled in the worst economic crisis in nearly eight decades; an onslaught of mismanagement brought about by uneven tax cuts, two wars and deregulation of the financial and housing industries. As our military return home to foreclosed homes and lackluster health services, some of the wealthiest citizens hide their money in offshore bank accounts. School districts are laying off teachers, and police are fighting crime with fewer and fewer resources. Congressional members left Washington last weekend without acting to prevent student loan rates from doubling.
So, why the prideful feelings? Why don that flag vest and express joy in being an American? Because it will get better. Despite all the angst and frustration, this country is still one of the best places to live. Yes, it could improve in terms of education and health care. But, that’s just the point: the potential is there. People have scoffed at my national pride; thinking I’m a fool, a naïve dunce who should know better. But, I’ve looked at them and asked what they’ve done to improve their own lot in life. What, I’ve queried – looking hard at the arrogant scowls that blister their faces – have they done to make this country a better place?
Criticism without action is pointless – and stupid. It goes back to the relationship issue. If you really love and care for someone, you’ll tell them when you feel they’re wrong. You’ll look them in the eyes and relay your concerns and your fears. You know they could do better.
The U.S. is the self-proclaimed beacon of freedom and democracy. We have the oldest national constitution one Earth. We are a democratic nation, and a democracy requires interaction among its citizens; it demands political engagement. After the controversial 2000 presidential elections, a friend told me he didn’t vote because he felt it didn’t count and pointed to the election results as proof. He then admitted the real reason he didn’t vote: he didn’t want the IRS to find him, since he owed so much in student loans and credit card debt at the time. Excuse me?
“Are you serious?” I asked him. “You have a social security number and a driver’s license. If the IRS wanted to find you, believe me, they’ll find you!”
Whenever I hear my fellow Americans dismiss the value of elections, I consider the tens of millions of people around the world who wished they had the luxury of choosing between the lesser of two evils. When they lament the lack of freedom for the poor, I see other Americans stepping in to fill the void of hunger. When they remark on this nation’s history of racist oppression, I remind them those days no longer exist; we’ve come a long way since then.
The U.S. is going through one of the toughest period in its existence. I don’t know. It just is. But, I suspect it’s the result of inaction on the part of the citizenry; people like my friend who didn’t bother to vote and who had resigned their country to an uncertain fate.
Yet, when I hear the extremists say they despise America – simply because it’s not working for them in particular – I recall the words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.”
Wherever you live, in whatever nation you call home, you simply can’t expect others to do things for you. You have to make your country work for you. It’s an endless chore. But, there’s no sensible alternative.