Friday, June 09, 2006

The Myth Of America

I am moving this comment and my response to the front page because I think it is an important question that we ask ourselves, is what we believe our country to be nothing more than a myth? I have touched on this topic several times, what it means to be an American? We were raised on propaganda that teaches us of our greatness, philanthropy and ingenuity, but we are not taught about our imperialist tendencies, our exploitation of others around the world and at what cost our “greatness” comes. That we must learn on our own.

Certainly we are not all bad, but are we really the great country we pride ourselves on being, the one we learn about in grammar school? Or is it simply that we must continue to strive to be as great as our founding documents suggest we can be? Even that requires amending our constitution to better reflect societal progress and the evolving nature of humans. And what does it say about us that we are now rolling back programs that have at least attempted to move us forward? Feel free to weigh in, I think it’s an important discussion to have.

Chief Says:

Love your blog, but need to ask when you feel the quote below from the end of this post was happening?

"if we ever hope to become the America that we once were long ago"

I can recall how the white settlers killed and subjugated the native Americans, how the Japanese Americans were rounded up in 1942 and put in detention (concentration?) camps, how beginning in 1953 or 1954 in Guatemala, we got rid of governments, even popularly elected ones, if they objected to U.S. companies business practices, not to even mention the enslavement of dark skinned people until 1865 and the further murder and ghettoization of people of color to this very day.

When were we what our history tells us we were? Remembering that it is always the winners who write the history.

We have always been a flawed country, based as it was on stealing land from the natives that lived here and building our wealth through slavery, but there has been forward movement and attempts to right wrongs after the fact. Now it feels as if we have stopped and are moving backwards.

American exceptionalism is a very real phenomenon and has led to all of the things you mentioned as well as more recent imperial exploits in places like El Salvador, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Panama and now Iraq. Believe me, I have no illusions about this countries "greatness" and how it was achieved.

But at least when this country was illegally funding the Contras (through drug trafficking dollars no less) and actively suppressing the peoples will in Nicaragua, it was done behind our backs because it was too distasteful, even to Congress. What the Reagan administration did was illegal and immoral and was done without the people's consent. Now we, the people, have joined in as accomplices and that doesn't bode well for the health of our country.

There are far too many mistakes we have never officially apologized for, let alone taken any real responsibility for, but in the past, progress has been made in recognizing that some wrongs should not happen again (outlawing slavery, extending rights to people of all races and genders, reparations for Japanese Americans interned during the war). We have made attempts through Affirmative Action to level the playing field here at home and outlawing “redlining” so minorities have an equal shot at home and business ownership. We instituted social security so that the elderly weren’t forced to live their final years in poverty and welfare so that children wouldn’t starve. These things did not solve the problems completely, but they at least were attempts at progress and they are all under attack now. We are forgetting the lessons we have learned.

I guess what I mean by that sentence is that we must go back to moving forward and stop ignoring our history, the very history you put forth and more. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it and all that. We have never been angels, but we have never been hated by the rest of the world to the extent we are now, nor have we neglected our responsibility to our citizens at home to such an extent since the lead up to the Depression (and possibly the 80s when there was a great push to get rid of the social safety net). We have gone from mostly benign during the 90s (at least as far as our foreign policy was concerned, our economic policies under Clinton were anything but benign with WTO and NAFTA) to causing great harm during this administration. Maybe during the next one we can get back to benign and then move towards doing good. The world could sure use it.


Anonymous lester said...

real america is the america of liberty. all the bad fake america comes from the state getting ivloved where they shouldn't be it welfare or warfare.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Did you know that Native Americans couldn’t become American citizens until 1924? My great uncle John, despite being born in Yakima didn’t become an American citizen until he was 23 years old.

I think it’s important for people to know things like this, to know our full and true history. But, I think it’s equally important to not obsess about it. Yes crappy stuff happened in our (and in every other county’s past) where we have made amends we should teach and talk about what happened, why it happened and how and why we fixed it. Where we haven’t made amends we should do that, like what we’re going here:

I think the phrase, “if you make a mess, clean it up” fits well. There’s no need to obsess about sins of the past be they national or personal once we’ve lived up to our obligations and cleaned up our mess.

12:26 PM  
Blogger amphimacer said...

As a nearby outsider (Canadian, having spent three years living in the U.S. as a "registered alien" -- by the way, that's a really lousy, loaded term; we use "landed immigrant" here in Canada), I begin by saying that I'm a great admirer of the American principles as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. With a president determined to ignore the former and ride roughshod over the latter, the country may have ended up in the dog house, internationally. But my time in the U.S., then and since, has always been wonderful (on the other hand, I'm a university-educated white male, and not everyone's experience mirrors mine).
"Real" America, if there is such a thing, is a people so in love with the idea of liberty that sometimes mistakes are made in its name. Invading Iraq is one such error. Having forty-one million people without medical insurance is another (you're free to bankrupt yourselves with medical bills). Another is the idea that teaching religion in the guise of science is a viable alternative to teaching science. That last one is a doozy, isn't it? My wife sometimes goes on an anti-American rant, but she really means Dubya and his cronies, not the man in the street in Florida or Ohio who had his vote stolen from him, or the single mother being kicked off welfare because she can't both work and see her children, and she chose her children. She doesn't mean the engineers who build great bridges across rivers and canyons. She doesn't mean you. It's just that, like me, she thinks the idea of the United States of America is so great, and the execution has been wanting.

1:54 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Michael--Progress in this country does move at a glacial pace more often than not, but that fact is startling and you're right, we should all know these things and learn the lessons and move on. I want us to continually strive to do and be better, I think it's what we were meant to do at our founding fathers urging.

Amphimacer--I have much the same feelings about my country. The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution are inspiring documents and we should continue to strive to live up to the grand ideas expressed in them. You're right, our problems in this country have much to do with execution. We must always remember that our informed participation is critical for our system to work properly. On that we can surely do better.

3:52 PM  
Blogger thehim said...

The answer to this lies in the framework that was established to provide for America's governance. Even when this country was founded, there were tolerant enlightened people who knew that slavery was wrong, but they were in the minority. However, through the Bill of Rights and by creating a government which was better than any before it in preventing abuses of power by its leaders, they allowed for a framework where intolerance could be eliminated over time without bloody revolutions every few decades.

There's no country on earth without a history of racism. That's not the point. The point is that we were given a system by our founding fathers that basically games the system so that liberty wins out in the end. The Civil War was the closest this system came to failing. What's happening today is awfully scary too, as we don't seem interested in the kind of power that Bush is trying to claim for the Executive branch. I think it's dangerous to ignore the framework of our nation's founding principles simply because it was a more racist time.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Godlessfriend said...

After reflecting upon this for a while I've had an enlightening moment. First, I'll opine that this administration is responsible for two very positive things.

The increased awareness of political activities by millions of concerned citizens who have been systematically downgraded to sheep status by a number of complicit administrations dating back multiple decades. Education has been abolished and this administration is not the most culpable co-offender. Secondly, this administration, in what could only be described as complete arrogance, continues to operate in a manner of secracy equivalent to a sneaky 8 yr. old child. This has created a type of transparency that is not only appalling, but appealing. It's like Bush just might one day sit on a shelf in some closet in the white house collecting dust. Surreal is the term I've heard to describe it that sticks the most. I concur. It's like watching an episode of West Wing with cast comprised completely of third graders. But it definitely has some folks looking. It warms my soulless, godless, drunkin' Irish carcass.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you liberals give reagan a bum rap. Yes there was something vaguely un american about the hero worship he enjoyed and iran contra was wrong, but you ahve to admit from 1980-2000 the US was virtually unstoppable. It was given we'd take a medal in virtually every event at the olympics. conservatives should give Clinton more credit too.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Godlessfriend said...

Iran Contra was wrong? 1980-2000? Medals at the Olympics? Dude, was Quiet Riot your favorite band??

8:13 PM  
Blogger bodiciah t rentlord III said...

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.
E. B. White

I love that definition. Of course it only applies to the people who can and do vote, and it implies an accurate count of those votes. But the bottom line is that there is evidence, from a variety of sources, that groups of people can solve problems better than any one person can.

About the way we were long ago. I don't believe that white people have necessarily treated each other any better than they treated people of other color, and vise-a-versa. The English, French and Germans were all 'white' and ruthless competitors; while the descendents of the European colonialists from Spain are now considered brown. The white British pushed out the white Scots and the white Irish who immigrated to the colonies. Generally the residents of the United States seem to have considered any who immigrated later than they themselves did as expendable labor. I don't dispute the damage of racism, but I do disagree with focusing on the historical impact of race and ignoring the effects of differences of nationality, language, religion, gender, and class.

I want to go back to the country I remember of not so long ago. When the minimum wage was high enough that one parent could support a family with one job, while the other parent concentrated on raising the children. When corporations paid a significant portion of the Federal income tax and the Supreme Court of the United States thought every single person had a right to have legal counsel - even if they could not afford it.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous lester said...

godless - I liked De LA Soul. My point is you are pretentious and who can get through your boring post? when 3 of your sentences are already boring, it's time to look in the mirror, homeboy

"Education has been abolished and this administration is not the most culpable co-offender."


10:29 AM  
Blogger Godlessfriend said...


Sorry you got pissed but your post came off pretty shallow. You basically gave Reagan credit for 20 years of American history and yacked about olympic performances like they are some benchmark for democratic success. I'll leave my opinions about the Iran Contra scandal out due to issues of depth.
By the often do you post as anonymous.

3:37 AM  

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