We were raised, like many others in other countries, with nationalism and hubris. We were taught to be proud of our country, that we were the best, and that to have a lack of patriotism was to be a traitor. We’re shamed if we don’t feel soldiers are heroes rather than the unfortunate victims of the military industrial complex. We’re brought up on white-washed history that reminds us of how great we are and conveniently forgets the horrific things we’ve done to get there off the backs of Native Americans, black people, Japanese Americans, women, gay people and countless others who don’t fit the straight, white, wealthy man narrative.
We have come to a head where we’re increasingly the laughing stock of the world. As we fall further down the list in healthcare, education, intelligence and innovation, we export obesity, cancer and reality television to the world.
We are the country who cares more about the Kardashians than the global economic crisis we helped to create. The only language we speak aside from English is greed. We don’t know what our neighbors in the next town over are dreaming about, let alone in Iran, Greece, Taiwan, or the many other places we couldn’t point out on a map if our life depended on it, let alone know their history, culture, humanity.
Now is the time when we must not divide over our ideals but unite over the larger, universal ones we all share. We must open our eyes and face the fact that the world sees us not as a respected super power, but a morally vacant empire that is crumbling.
We must start by admitting we need help. We must throw away those glossy, misinformed history textbooks and demand that 60% of our disproportionately high taxes shouldn’t fund wars that kill others and our own.
That we should instead invest that money in updating our dilapidated infrastructure, in feeding and educating ALL of our children, and in building diplomatic ties that don’t teeter a gun barrel at the other end.
We have more wealth than anyone else, but Brazil has better public transportation, Cuba has better healthcare, Tunisia has better laws for the equal treatment of women.
We aren’t going to make America great again by throwing more money and hate at the wall we build to keep others out. That’s precisely what has brought us to the precarious place we find ourselves in now. We will only succeed if we ditch fear and greed as our operating apparatuses and take up kindness and compassion instead.
This may feel like a nice want to have right now, but we’ll increasingly realize it’s actually a need and that we waited too long. How can we be proud of a country that has the power to feed the starving child, to stop the chemicals that are giving us cancer, to get rich off the backs of child labor and poor working conditions, but we choose to do nothing? How can we truly enjoy our own wealth when we step over the bodies of those we are capable of helping on the way?
These are not absolutes. We can be wealthy AND help uplift those around us. We can be proud of our country and have a curiosity to learn about others.
It’s not too late. But to get there we need to take a deep breath, step back and look at the bigger picture. We must stop with the Bernie versus Hillary bashing. We must stop uplifting Trump (which includes negative public attention). We must stop complaining about paying five cents for a plastic bag when it means we can stop feeding our children plastic found in the bellies of the fish in our oceans. We must realize the lived experiences of those outside of ourselves. We must think about our neighbors and realize that their well-being is ours, the cows we slaughter, the black or gay family on our block, the female employee, and acknowledge that it’s not nice to empathize, it’s absolutely necessary.
The tighter we hold our fists to keep our money, the more we suffocate those around us, which will in turn suffocate us. Won’t the value of your mansion go down if every other house on the block forecloses? Maybe that homeless child you stepped over with your expensive shoes grows up to become the nurse who could save your life. Maybe that child you help educate cures the cancer that ails your wife.
We were taught to think about ourselves. It’s time we realize that ourselves includes others, that we cannot exist without our fellow animals and that we should be doing everything we can to ensure a collective good life for us all. Because the child in Syria who just lost his parents and his limbs to war is you and me. A stain on out moral canvas bleeds into all its pores.
White picket fences make not the American dream. Will and generosity and opportunity do.
I’m patriotic enough to still have hope.