American Culture

Another Fourth, another episode of blissful national blindness

No red, white, and blue adorn my flagpole. No patriotic bunting arches over my front door. No fireworks await their flaming demise. I no longer enjoy the nation’s formal parting from Great Britain (which was on July 2, anyway).

2f45d-free_wallpaper_patriotic_eagle_american_flag_background-1-1024x768I suppose, at one time, July Fourth carried great meaning to all Americans. After all, because of the acts of the Continental Congress and subsequent versions of it, I can (and do) criticize my government without fear or favor. I can own a weapon. My home and person cannot be searched or seized without cause. I am not obligated to incriminate myself. I can practice the religion of my choice — or decide not to — without government coercion. I can peaceably assemble with others to protest almost any damn thing I want to. I can vote to select who will govern me. And Congress cannot prevent me from owning a press in which I tell others what I see and what I know and what I feel.

I love my country because of the ideals inherent in the Constitution and especially in the Bill of Rights.

But lately, I have come to dislike this overwrought holiday. This annual ritual of patriotic devotion does little but confirm to too many the untested certainties of received wisdom they hold without question. Those — including, I’d argue, many if not most of the nation’s politicians — do little to escape the confirmation bias that blinds them to realities and possibilities. Too few question authority. Instead, they seek only to bolster their own power.

As a child in the Eisenhower Fifties, I was raised and schooled to be patriotic. I wrote an essay in the seventh grade condemning communism as “the world’s greatest evil.” Communism, I said, had to be defeated by Democracy (yeah, I capped that D in middle school).

Well, that happened. Democracy rules. Yayyy … Oh, how my outlook has changed as I stumble off into my dotage.

I am a citizen in a nation in which compromise, trust, and willingness to negotiate have been replaced by political, religious, territorial, or jingoistic alliances that Nick Cohen, in his book Far Left , says have “little to offer beyond a rootless rage.”

I am a citizen in a nation in which those who would lead us gleefully and outrageously tell lies to secure advantage. They can do so in large measure because really rich people continue to pour money into their campaigns. Thus dishonesty has become a political staple because lying has no political or electoral consequence.

I am a citizen in a nation in which a president, aided and abetted (if not misled) by his vice president, outsourced many federal government functions to corporations, thus undercutting public scrutiny, reducing competitive bidding, and overriding regulations forbidding it.

I am a citizen in a nation in which I will vote to avoid a president rather than elect one. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton has demonstrated — not just promised — the willingness or the ability to serve all Americans rather than those of their political choosing.

I live in a nation in which I twice voted for a president who promised “hope and change.” He said he was a Democrat. But he prevaricated, too: He became at his political core a Republican. He may blame a hostile Congress, but he still failed to accomplish more for the many rather than the few. Fool me once

I live in a nation in which my own college loans won’t be paid off until I’m 86 years old. Much of that is my bad. But I teach students who will leave my university with as much as $30,000 in student loan debt. Nationally, the total student loan debt has surged past $1.2 trillion. Try to find a member of Congress who has the political cojones to run for re-election with reducing or forgiving that debt as her or his principal issue.

The July 1 draft of the Democratic Party platform offers refinancing at lower rates, income-based repayments, and debt discharge in bankruptcies. But ask: How much would that actually reduce the onerous trillion-dollar monster holding at least two generations of students in financial thrall? And what is the likelihood Democrats can persuade Republicans to agree to it?

I live in a nation in which the Democratic Party’s platform of 2012 (not 2016) called this the party’s “North Star”: Reclaiming the economic security of the middle class is the challenge we must overcome today. Well, how’s that working out?

I live in a nation in which the Republican Party platform of 2012 (not 2016) touts as its first belief: Our nation is exceptional. Well, are we? As I wrote five years ago:

Wealth concentrated from the wallets of many to the offshore accounts of the few. For many, if not most, Americans, growth in family wealth stagnated or lost ground to inflation. Financially, life just got harder for the lower and middle classes, making it more difficult to dream of space flight. Making the monthly mortgage nut overrode all other considerations. Political power shifted from the many to the few as corporatism’s emergent role in politics shifted politicians’ attention from helping us to placating them.

How exceptional is a nation that has been at war, or in permanent preparation for war, since the end of World War II — but has won nothing? Military preparedness rules Washington thinking. But it is costly and erodes support for other national needs. Thus what has happened to the middle class, the nation’s infrastructure, both public and private education at all levels, the outrageous cost and availability of health care, and the individual’s belief anything is possible for me is decidedly unexceptional.

I live in a nation in which individualism is prized but individuals are not — especially if the individual is not white, not male, or is sick, hungry, poor, illiterate, an immigrant (legal or otherwise), a Muslim, a single mother or father, gay, transgender, or disabled (especially if a veteran).

I live in a nation whose resources have been taken — stolen — by transnational corporations and banks “too big to fail” because of favorable tax codes, relaxation of regulations, and sheer greedy chutzpah. Millions lost homes in the housing crisis. No bankers went to jail for the debacle of 2008, and the nation may still be speeding along that same bubble-pockmarked road.

So have fun on the Fourth. Break out the grill. Chomp down the burgers and hotdogs. Guzzle a beer or three. Invite the neighbors. Gaze happily at the bright bursts of fireworks that fade to nothing in the darkness.

The America you celebrate may not be the America that exists. Too many celebrants will watch the fireworks wearing blinders obscuring the realities that beset so much of America today. America can be a better nation, but those realities must be addressed by all of us — not just the Trumps or the Clintons or their rich, demanding, billionaire backers. But first we must all take off those goddamned blinders.

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