Friday, September 11, 2009

The United States? Really?

Eight years ago today, we faced an unprecedented assault. And as a nation, we came together in a way that I had never witnessed in my lifetime. Even through the horror and loss, it seemed like the birth of something new, a patriotic fervor and pride that could wipe away the tarnish of our increasingly corrupt and bankrupt country.

On that day, who was not proud to be an American as we watched the firefighters giving their lives to try to save others? Who was not proud to be an American when they heard the story of flight 93, sacrificing themselves to prevent more deaths? Who was not proud to be an American when the Red Cross said they didn't need any more donors, because so many had stepped up?

On that day, I was sad at the loss. I was furious at the attackers. And I was proud of my country.

I don't think I've been proud of my country since then.

I know, I know - I have heard that if I don't love this country, I should just leave it. And that brings me to my post title. Are we really the United States? If so, what are we united about?

Pre Civil War, the States were considered sovereign, and signatories to a constitution resembling an alliance more than anything else (an oversimplification, of course). The literature consistently referred to these United States. Afterwards, with the solidification of centralized federal government, we were referred to as the United States. A subtle, but important difference.

But both Pre and Post Civil War, there were common things that united us as a nation. A love of liberty. A distrust of government power. A respect for individual accomplishment. A tradition of self-reliance. Stories of Johnny Appleseed, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin. A musical heritage that came later to include not just patriotic songs, but cowboy music, folk songs, dixieland, ragtime, and jazz. Easter. Christmas. Thanksgiving.

Now, what unites us? A quarter of this country celebrates Cinco De Mayo. The rest don't even know what that is. Thanksgiving and Christmas have become co-opted as commercial entities with no real meaning (if they're even mentioned. Easter has gone into hiding, except as a time to eat chocolate. Mmm... Cadburry eggs.

I can't think of a single thing that we agree on as a country. And just as telling, there's something that I think is more prevalent now than ever before; hate. It's not enough to disagree anymore. Now you have to have hatred for the opposition. You have to call them names. You have to imply that they are idiots for daring to disagree with you.

And you have to lump people into easy political categories whether they fit there or not. And if they're in the same category as you, you have to support them, whether or not you agree. If they're in a different category, you hate them. And everything they stand for.

Politically, I can't think of anything that unites California with Texas. Massachusetts with Alabama. New York with Montana.

So I ask you, in all honesty - what unites these states now? What do we have that we should be proud of right now that we all share? This isn't rhetorical - I'm searching for an answer here.

Now, to go back to something that I wrote earlier... If I don't love what this country has become, why don't I leave it? Because pride in my country is not the most important thing to me. My family lives in this country, and nothing tops that. I have a career in this country that I love, and the only thing that tops that is my family. And I have hope; hope that when the house of cards comes crashing down, we can rebuild something better. Something built on say, the Constitution of the United States.

But for now, are we united anymore?