It’s strange to think back through the years of my education and history classes and to consider how true the words would ring through, truer and truer over time – history is written by the victors. So much of American history has been redacted and whitewashed to show the best side of our culture and society. We have re-touched and smoothed the wrinkles, and we want to be shown as the conquering heroes, carrying the standard of Truth and Justice and all things good. The problem though is that the deeper we hide the truth the deeper the infection spreads from it and the lies associated with it.
There is a weird mentality amongst many of us that holds people to standards we don’t hold for ourselves. We hold celebrities and politicians to standards that are unreal and honestly creepy only to celebrate as they invariably prove themselves to be all too human.
So is the case with our history.
We have whitewashed it to allay our guilt and to tell us the convenient half-truth that might makes right and that if our intentions were ‘pure’ then however we got to where we are was worth it. We want to feel like the heroes of our movies and stories, the grand champions that inspire the world, but we cannot aspire to ideals we don’t truly embrace.
And until we are willing to admit that yes, our history is messy, and that our American flag has been stained with the blood of many, we cannot pretend to be the leaders we claim to be.
The scary thing is that this false patriotism, this America Is Right mentality has festered and become infected, infecting the people who live by it. We certainly don’t need to burn the proverbial flag, or what it stand for, but we need to face our many sins, see why they happened, and work to make sure they never happen again while asking the question as to whether it’s appropriate to make some form of reparation to those we have wronged.
And it is ‘we’ because we are all part of this country and system, even if we didn’t commit the sins ourselves.
But we feel that this American Experiment is so fragile that were we to look behind its curtain it would destroy the country and what we believe in, which isn’t the case. The truth exists, it’s there, it’s been seen, so it’s better to bring it all out and talk about it and mourn for it together rather than pretend that it isn’t real in some sort of twisted form of patriotism. The past doesn’t define us, but it does inform us.
Out of this strange, broken false patriotism we have people who believe themselves heroes, who sing the anthem louder, and march to the beat of their Second Amendment rights, and who will bully anyone that doesn’t agree with them. They are emboldened by politicians and pundits who don’t have any use for gray history, or really any history at all because the truth is that the truth has become a commodity to be bought and sold. It has been just as weaponized as patriotism, and it is being used to grab power and money without any concern as to how dangerous this has become. Look no further than January 6th and the attempted coup and insurrection, something that is now being spun to be a patriotic attempt to take power that was never stolen.
It’s horrifying to see how far we have fallen, as a nation, that something as simple as a vaccination to stave off a potentially deadly virus has become a political football to be tossed about as bodies fall around us. Politics has always been a game of brinksmanship, one side daring the other to do something as the other prepared a response, it has only gotten more and more dangerous though as the ambitions of people who hunger for fame and fortune push their agendas harder and harder in concert with one another.
The political system in America is broken. To think that two parties can represent the number of people in our nation is naïve, and the two we have been entrenched in rhetoric and exaggeration and the larger issues we need to deal with – safety, infrastructure, healthcare, and what role we play in the world’s politics – are ignored so we can obsess over the same handful of issues of morality and self that shouldn’t be legislated anyway. Let religion and philosophy parse through the quagmire of society and let the legislatures forge the path to security and hope.
And yes, hope, something that has been made into a curse word, but something our nation needs now more than ever.
Hope that we can be better.
Hope that we can learn from the past.
Hope that we can guide ourselves out of this mess.
How though, I don’t know.
As people place more love into their amassed arms than they do into their fellow country people, as heroes are made into villains, and as willful ignorance takes the place of measured wisdom, I have no idea how you cut through it all to unite us again. We saw with 9/11 that even tragedy can’t pull us together for long because it’s easier to give in to fear, hate, and blind rage as we lash out whoever the newest enemy is. We are in an era of fear and so many of us are so desperately afraid of change, of not being the top of the food chain. Fear that their narrow views will be forced to widen as more people demand to be seen, heard, and respected.
And I get it, I get the fear, because change, especially this sort of change, is scary, but making monsters of the people who want to be seen and heard because you don’t understand them, or their struggles, makes you not better, but just pushes you into a corner because things will change.
It is inevitable.
Ours is a great nation, that has great people and done great things, but the fact that we will only allow SOME of our history to be seen and SOME of our heroes and heroines to be honored as we build our subdivisions on top of the graves of the forgotten dead. We forget that politicians serve us, not command us, and that this, unfortunately, just another job for most of them and a way to get what they want. American politics has become another grift, not a surprising or new thing, but a dangerous one as this grift is about the talk shows, and speaking tours, and corporate gigs that come after the years of service, all with the benefit of lifetime healthcare.
American politics has become another reality television series and its reliance on the cult of personality that is our former President, shows that it is about image and spin. Declare the other side are anti-American enough times and that they are enemies to be eliminated loud enough and the people on the fringes, the people with nothing to lose, who see boogiemen wherever they go, will do the heavy lifting for you.
And if they don’t, a virus run rampant will do the rest.
America has always been a bloody bride to the dream of democracy, but that blood is our blood, and those sins are ours too. This country was made (too often) by men, men who were not perfect, who had their own sins and made their own mistakes, and we must reckon with that as we reckon with the nation they helped to forge. Once we accept that this isn’t a perfect nation though we can start taking the steps towards a better nation, one that represents all of us, and doesn’t need statues and myths to make us proud.
Those colors may be faded, along with our glory, but they are ours, and it’s time we honored the struggle and sacrifice that got us here, and started the long, hard work it will take to do better.
(I am a writer. Go buy some books!)