“Proud to be an American.” How easy that comes off the lips. Of course, we’re proud to be living in the world’s most free, most interesting, most innovating nation.
Are we any different though than the Brit? Or the Russians? Or, heaven forbid, the Cubans? Or any other nation you can think of.
I’m also proud to be a Wisconsin fan, a Packers fan, a Brewers fan. Does that make me better than the Northwestern fan who also roots for the hated Bears or the perennial losing Cubs?
All this breast-thumping is OK when you’re rooting for a football, baseball or other sports teams. Afterwards, you can usually enjoy a beer with a friend who may root for the other guy.
But when it comes to being an American, there’s a tendency for most of us to believe we are No. 1, that we are the BEST there is. That’s something called “American exceptionalism,” and it causes us to think that we as a nation are omnipotent, that we are the strongest, bravest, finest nation in the world and that we can conquer all and everyone.
Let’s all realize that the United States IS exceptional. We are the world’s longest lasting democracy, no easy fete in the life of nations. We have survived some terrible internal conflicts, not the least of which was the Civil War. We have transferred control of our government to opposing parties peacefully time after time without a military coup. Our capitalistic system has driven the economies of the world, has led the way in innovations and provided, in the past, an enviable standard of living.
Lest we be too arrogant, let us all realize the United States has many things that bring shame instead of pride.
No, we don’t have the world’s best health care system, as we rank well down the list of nations when considering infant mortality rates, length of life and access to health care. Of course, for those who can afford it due to health insurance protections (not available to perhaps 50 million citizens), our health care can be the best, as this writer must attest from personal experience recently. But for so many we fail miserably.
Our income disparity between the very rich and the poor is growing more and more, leaving many families without hope of ever rising out of their decrepit neighborhoods and dysfunctional situations.
As our international affairs go, we must realize, too, that we are NOT omnipotent. Certainly our struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan must tell us that, short of committing millions of our own armed forces, we can never win the total victory many still think is possible. Vietnam proved that, as did Korea, nearly 60 years ago, as we had to agree to a permanent partition. The writer is old enough to remember when politicians blamed Presidents Truman and Roosevelt for “losing” China, blaming them for being unable to halt the Communist takeover from the inept and corrupt government of Chang Kai Shek. It would have taken an allout military crusade then to halt the onslaught of the masses in revolutionary China.
Rooting for the home team is fine. But as we stand to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the next athletic event or place an American flag on our front lawns, let us realize those actions are but a symbol of our nation. Real patriotism demands more of us: It demands that we become informed citizens so that we can require our leaders to make wise decisions, that we look beyond the outright lies and distortions peddled by the charlatans of TV punditry and radio talk shows, and that we campaign to correct the many wrongs and shortcomings of our nation so that we can honestly say: “I’m proud to be an American.”