Tuesday, November 18, 2008

As American...

... as apple pie?

Ellie and I watched the Obama interview on Sixty Minutes on Sunday evening with enormous pleasure. What a thrill to have as a President-elect a man who speaks in whole sentences on every issue put before him, who has clear and well-enunciated thoughts, a serviceable and readily accessible grasp of history—and a sense of humor to boot. What a delight to have as a prospective First Lady (I’ve always kind of disliked that title) a woman who is so evidently smart and well-informed, dedicated to her family, and supportive of the man who will be President. It seems like a long time we have waited for such people in our White House. Apple pie, at last!

Did I mention last week about being asked if I was “proud to be an American”? I answered, No, out of principle, because I have seen in my time on Earth what the nationalistic spirit can lead to, and because I believe with Samuel Johnson that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” But just as I can be proud of something I have done rather than of who I am, I can be proud of what America has achieved; and in this instance it has achieved something truly praiseworthy and remarkable.

Alas, not everything American is apple pie. I also watched, later in the evening, a couple of episodes of the Ken Burns-produced documentary, The West, and was confronted with the dark side of the American experience in the wanton slaughter of the buffalo and the government-sponsored decimation of the Native American tribes with a litany of broken treaties, betrayals, and promises unkept—all in the spirit of expansionism and the accumulation of excessive wealth. I could not help but wonder, by the end, whether I was not witnessing some unsavory part of the American character that persists to this day: is it not the same greed that caused the senseless mass killing of animals for the sake of the money their dead bodies represent, and the senseless pursuit of superfluous wealth in the financial world today? Am I being unkind? Unpatriotic? Am I speaking of basic human characteristics, not peculiarly American ones? But then I think of the hapless Indians, who had lived on their lands for centuries, taking from it only what they needed for survival…

I know that I risk seeming down on America, but it’s one of my fundamental and recurring arguments that we must know who we are, as a people, if we are to move forward into a viable future for ourselves and those with whom we share the planet. We have, to put it bluntly, a tendency to indulge rather easily in self-congratulation about ourselves and our country, and to skip the important critical part which leads to the kind of clarity we need if we are to make our contribution to the world. If we fail to acknowledge the truth of our materialism, our insatiable desire for MORE, our willingness to promote our own interests above those of our neighbors, our too easily-aroused instinct to resolve delicate issues with aggression, our role as the world's 900-pound gorilla will be undiminished and I fear for the outcome...

But then, of course, we elect an Obama, which leads me to hope that, this time, we have truly listened to our better angels. Good for us!

5 comments:

mandt said...

"I know that I risk seeming down on America" Well, appropriately so! A risk, always in a violent nation, but without critical reasoning and a firm command of factual history we would descend into predatory anarchy..... come to think of it, you are quiet prescient.

TaraDharma said...

I think being able to think critically about our country, past and present, is the hallmark of a strong democracy.

I watched the Obama interview and was very proud and pleased. Dignity comes again to the White House.

Cardozo said...

Speaking of pride and patriotism...I've had heaping spoonfuls of both ever since election night, but recently an uneasy feeling has crept in.

The source of this feeling is the thought that perhaps luck played a more significant role in Obama's triumph than many of us would like to think.

Remember after the GOP convention, when McCain surged to a lead in the polls? What if the economic crisis had not erupted at just that moment, to drive home the point that the country is worse off now than before GWB took office?

Are we playing Russian roulette each time we hold a national election?

John Torcello said...

America is a country in which its people will fight to the death in order to reserve the right to save a chance to win the lottery. Sarah Palin!...need I say more?

It is also a political philosophy put into action that has the uncanny knack at re-inventing itself over and over again.

It is not a perfect system. Genetically, it is a 'knock-down, drag out' system that was born of conflict. It celebrates and holds proud its history of battles fought and wars won. Belligerence is in our bones.

But, every so often, we come back to resume and continue, what I think is, the 'right' path. In these instances, America's resilience shines through as a beacon and model for other nations' political, cultural and social philosophies.

We have allowed ourselves another chance. The present seeming disintegration of economic and social institutions can be viewed as a tremendous opportunity to 'reboot' and start fresh.

Now the challenge for each of us is to break our own self-imposed restraints; our thoughts and our understanding; through the actions of our lives.

Once we come to accept this freedom and act out with courage, enthusiasm and no fear or anxiety; the discovery of true 'meaning' begins.

khengsiong said...

Maybe you can be "happy to be an American" rather than "proud to be an American"...