Because we are so crushingly interconnected, wired, opinionated, and free, our national tendency to bewail and even condemn ourselves sometimes weighs us down with self-flagellation and remorse and some sense that we are somehow finished as a civilization.
You don't get beheaded here if you have an opinion.
Many folks transfer this national melancholy onto the shoulders of President Obama or, even more cynically, assume that people dump the mood on him because of his skin color. Well, Jimmy Carter created the most calcified national malaise in the last fifty years; his catastrophic handling of both the economy and the Iranian hostage humiliation remains the nadir of the modern US presidency.
Criticizing America, excoriating our soul, and even declaring the nation as moribund in various categories are quick and easy paths for every self-appointed blogging head or even literate commentator who is just using (or exploiting) the fundamental American value of open expression. You don't get beheaded here if you have an opinion.
Are we really that disappointed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are less and less our wars; that we didn’t risk a chemical conflagration with Syria; that we saved an American soldier while sending five more Taliban murderers back into their own cesspool; that we actually pay considerably less for gasoline than motorists from Ukraine to Japan?
And what’s our obsession with Ukraine, anyway? Are we that sentimental about our buddies in Russia who first joined forces with the Nazis and then about-faced? Russia has failed already to be the post-Soviet republic that many brave Russians fought for; a visit to its hinterlands reveals a society saturated in despair, repression, and alcoholism. I’d rather deal with the bad traffic of Atlanta than the rampant trafficking of Moscow.
Deeply flawed as we are (and not afraid to confront those flaws), this nation—still the most philanthropic, trend-setting, democracy-protecting country on earth—remains the envy of the world and I am blood-proud of the fact that my parents brought me here as a family of immigrants two generations ago.
Every nation has issues and potholes and educational gaps and raging lunatics and a class of jingoists and a swollen sense-of-self but very few nations even have the freedom to flail about these. Ask the schoolteacher in Libya, the child in Somalia, the widow in North Korea. Don’t ask the heaps of dead children in Syria.
The Japanese have a vibrant, informed (if cyber-beaten) culture but the social infrastructure of that state was built on the fact of our liberating Japan from itself by 1945. China is rising, but you can barely see it in the inhumanly toxic air of Beijing and you are safer breathing the fumes of Los Angeles than opening your mouth in Shanghai. India is a manufacturing juggernaut now but people and dirt and destitution are all comingling in the very streets of Mumbai and New Delhi.
We do have an immigration crisis in our America, but this has a lot to do with the universal dream of human beings to leave where they are and to come here. It’s hard to trace any particular emigration trail outbound to Latin America, Asia, or even the newly-emergent domains of Eastern Europe.
People romanticize Paris (and it is a most glorious city, indeed) but the French are the first to vacillate when it comes to standing up behind any of their tiresome bromides of self-importance and condescension. I feel that folks are more dependable and actually friendly in Kansas City or Memphis.
Europe, though shimmering with history and beauty and great food, is overly glamorized even in American minds. It’s as if the entire continent wasn’t engaged—just 70 years ago—in an unspeakably pandemic genocide of its Jews, homosexuals, handicapped, righteous Christians, and other racially undesirables that erased more than 50 million human souls from this life. Yes, I’ll holiday in Rome but bring me home to the USA.
America, we have work to do. So let’s stop working so hard on our unremitting guilt.