My wife and I are watching the movie “Dave” with my kids. She’s really into “themes” on holidays , so we decided to watch a patriotic movie and that one was sweet. As we watched, I wanted to explain why America was so great, why they should be proud of it, and proud to be citizens here.
I know I pick on the country in these pages often, complaining about this and that, but I remember when it wasn’t this way. I believe it’s all done out of love, wanting the country to be the best country it can be. I want us to live up to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. I want us to live up to The Dream of Martin Luther King, the united vision that Lincoln saw, the future that JFK led us to, the sense of morality of our Pilgrim forefathers had, the humility that Washington had when he took office, the sense of limits and peace that Bob Dylan talked about in Blowing In The Wind. I want the feeling of hope (yes, hope, in all its audacity) that I felt on the night President Obama was elected. Mostly, I want the feeling I had as a kid – that democracy wasn’t a spectator sport, that we should – and could do something that was right and good, we could love each other in peace using that constitution – because this was America, after all.
Today, I’m just depressed – some because the government is stuck, some because there’s such a huge gap between rich and poor, some because corporations and wealthy-beyond-belief people seem to run the country despite elections, some because there have been two large oil spills destroying our economy in the past few years and our government seems bent on being better to the oil companies than it is to its people. It’s hard to know where to start in dealing with these problems. I think we need election reform, I think we need a fair taxation system, I think that elected officials can’t represent parties first and their electorate second. I want somebody in Washington to talk about we can and should do to straighten out the mess we’re in. Then I want them to do it. But if it doesn’t take everybody into account, including people who can’t vote, and have no power, I don’t want it. I want the world to make sense again. Right now, at this instant, July 4th, 2011, we’re nowhere near that.
So what do I tell my daughters, what do I say makes us The Greatest Nation on Earth? Is it our wealth? No. That’s getting worse for many. Is it our educational opportunities? No. They’re getting more expensive while teachers are being laid off meaning less individual attention. Is it that we can –if we work really hard – afford a house and a car and raise children? I know plenty of people that can’t afford any of that and they work plenty hard. Is it our knowledge base and our scientists? Mostly, they’re making new drugs for Big Pharma, though Apple and Microsoft and Google give me hope. Is it our morals and sense of dignity? It’s not we’re aiming for anymore. We play and sell games to our children whose goal is to rob and kill, run over prostitutes, and gun down drug dealers. Then there’s Twitter and Mr. Weiner, Jerry Springer and pro wrestling.
So, what’s left? There are only two things and I hope we don’t destroy the second one any time soon. At a time like this, when our democracy doesn’t seem to be working for the civil defense or for liberty or for The People, the only things left are our people and our land.
We have the basic building blocks of a great country, even if nobody’s using them wisely right now. The idea that my daughters could be President, that my church’s members have morals, that people try to do the right thing every day in their families and in their communities, that friends are teachers, and therapists, and artists, people who help the handicapped, people who are spiritual, people who help others fix their cars at a cheap rate or no cost, people who help their neighbors after tornadoes hit – even though they don’t have to, and even though they won’t get anything out of it, speaks volumes about our God-given human resources. A system can’t survive without resources, and among humans, we’ve got them. There is beauty and good in nearly everyone I know, even if it doesn’t look like it now. Even the most scarred people I see want to get better – want to love their children and spouses and partners. The drive is there. But we’ve got to see it and we’ve got to use it wisely, instead of throwing bombs at it or drugs and violence and fear at it. Let’s stop putting our most precious resources in harm’s way.
After that is the other God-given building block – our earth. Our seashores and our rivers, our deserts and forests and farmland and the animals that live there feed us, clothe us, meet our basic needs. We have a huge country, the likes of which most of the world can’t conceive of. It takes days, not hours, to drive across our nation. The stuff out there is incredible and we don’t understand how it all works or why it does what it does. But we’re sloppy with it – using it and abusing it until there’s nothing left of it to farm or raise children or animals – or a democracy – on.
I bet, between human kindness and natural resources, we could do something with this country that will make us all proud of who we are – not with jingoism or reality as it’s portrayed on TV – but with real beauty that lets us sleep at night, that lets us look in the mirror at ourselves and know we’ve done something good for the world, for each other, for nature or all of the above. We have the stuff. We even have the right stuff. If we use it right, by next year we can have a country we can all be proud of. That would be America.