Don’t get too excited, this isn’t a political ad. There’s no Bible thumping, fist pumping or gun talk either. If you like George Carlin, read on. If not, have a nice day.
“When you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you get a front row seat.” – George Carlin
George might be right, America can be like a freak show, but I will stick with the traditional melting pot analogy. Think about the ingredients that went into this cultural stew. People who were not content to live under other forms of government, told how to pray, wanted to escape the class system, poor people who wanted to escape poverty, those who were oppressed for being the wrong color or religion, and people who wanted to create a more enterprising community. Then there were the opportunists, scalawags and cutthroats, criminals thrown out of other countries, slaves (who didn’t have a choice), migrant workers, and other assorted folks. More than one Native American or other indigenous person probably looked around and said, “Who invited these people?” In a sense, the contestants for the reality show have landed.
“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.” – George Carlin
My point, those who populated this country came from all over, had many reasons for being here and weren’t necessarily at the top of the social register. All the ingredients went into the pot, some delicious, others not so much, but it cooked, occasionally boiled over, and made this interesting and unique entree.
My family tree is not exactly unique or exemplary. Immigrants, many generations back, common folks, with an occasional miscreant thrown in for flavor. Prior to my parents’ level of the family, college education was rare, but hard, backbreaking work was not.
Looking at my grandparents, life was hard, but they survived. Their kids inherited a solid work ethic, and although life sometimes kicked them down, I cannot remember any of them relying on food stamps or public assistance. They might have been eligible, but I do not believe they ever asked for it. When my parents split up, and my high school educated mother had three kids to support, she never asked for public assistance. That was her decision. Life was difficult, but we made it. The cost of living is quite a bit higher now, so would she have made the same decision, I don’t know. This is not a comment on using public assistance, it is there for a reason, and I’m glad our country has a safety net for those who need it.
So, why am I proud to be an American? Glad you asked. America is a land of opportunity, although the American Dream is harder and harder to grab onto. There is a reason that tens of thousands of people want to come here every year, it is a much better and safer place than where they currently live. I feel fortunate to have been born here, although I really had nothing to do with it.
My gender and race also contribute to the advantages that I have enjoyed. That’s a fact. I look around the various governing boards of my city, county, state legislature and Congress and I see mostly people who look like me. It’s changing, but not fast enough. I’m for electing more women, people of color, and younger candidates. That is more representative and democratic.
I am proud of the opportunity afforded me, and the fact that during my lifetime, no war has been fought on the soil around me. I never had to dodge bullets on my way to work, I do not fear an invasion, there is no battle line on my street, and I do not fear bombs falling on my house. Look around the world, millions of people are not so lucky.
I also enjoy the fact that if I do not like something our government is doing (quite often), I can tell them about it, without fear of being arrested or put on an enemies list (I’m not certain of this). I can also protest, but I run the risk of being arrested, even if I am peaceful, obey police orders and do not trespass. Protesters are called a mob. Archie Bunker lives.
“When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts.” – George Carlin
In our country we hold free elections, although many districts have been gerrymandered to isolate various political interests. There are protections to ensure your right to vote, unless you live in some states where voter rolls are purged, polling places near you are closed, administrative regulations make it difficult to get the correct ID, and your votes are not counted. Nobody said life was perfect.
When I was an impressionable youngster, I learned in school about such patriotic things as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the westward expansion of our country, growing to our current 50 states, our entering two world wars to save civilization, and generally how we have served as the guiding light for less fortunate people around the world. Damn good work.
I also learned about the formation and colonization of this country, how we fought to become independent from England, our wars with Spain and Mexico over southern territory, our war between Northern and Southern states, our effort to ferret out Communists during the 1950s, the Cold War, stopping Communist aggression in Southeast Asia, and something called civil rights. This would made a very interesting action film, or a Mel Brooks comedy.
What I also learned was the importance of American ideals. There is a reason that our country was formed the way it was, and the documents created that outlined not only how the government would work, but the rights and protections for the people. These applied to White men mostly, women and people of color had some catching up to do. The rights outlined in those documents were the envy of the world. It was like driving a new Cadillac home and watching the neighbors drool.
If you are born and raised here, we kind of take for granted the special status that we Americans tend to feel. It isn’t that we are better than other people, but we come with a real “Made in America” label, the kind that matters. In the twentieth century, we had this internal conflict about whether we would keep to ourselves, like enjoying life in our backyards behind our fences, with our barbecue grill and badminton net – or, we would intervene in conflicts outside of our borders. Sometimes we did enter those conflicts, especially when provoked, and we rode into battle on our Sherman tanks or B-17 bombers. Take that, Mr. Hitler.
“How is it possible to have a civil war?” – George Carlin
Whether to enter a conflict elsewhere in the world has been a dividing line, both politically and along our values. Sending young men (and now women) into harm’s way is a serious matter. We have done so in part to protect our own interests, but also because we believed it was the right thing to fight aggression or stop atrocities.
When General Eisenhower toured liberated German concentration camps he was shocked by the savagery and brutality that he saw. He ordered all American troops and news personnel to visit these camps to see what we were fighting against.
As Americans, we have sought to stand on high moral ground, although that has been subject to debate. We tend to see ourselves as upholding high ideals of truth, liberty, freedom and justice. Kind of like the Superman creed. While we might have aspired to those ideals, the truth of our struggles with equality (race, gender, religion and sexual orientation) scar our past, and our present.
We are a country of many divides. It’s not so much how we think, it is how we behave. We protect speech, religious practice, and the freedom to believe the way you want. We encourage individuality and expression. One of our inalienable rights is to keep it real. It is more difficult when what we believe becomes a blade and is wielded to impact someone else’s rights. As Americans, we are the people of action. While we can sit on the couch and talk things to death better than anyone, we are quick to action when we want to be.
“If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to have selfish, ignorant leaders.” – George Carlin
Kindness is not strictly an American value, but there is kindness all around us. We are a charitable nation of people, in part because of the religious fabric of our history, but we are also extremely generous because of our wealth and success. Neighbor helping neighbor can be traced back to our roots and sense of community. It took a community to survive in the New World. If my neighbor needs a barn to be built, I’m there with my Home Depot building consultant.
The subject of immigration is a thorny, but important one. We are a nation of generations of immigrants. The face of our nation has changed in three hundred years. Some people are good with that, others not. It is who we are. There is an image to some that we are a nation who greets people with open arms. That may have been more true in the past, but it is highly questionable now. Through our history, we have accepted many people who were fleeing persecution or danger. Certainly not everyone, and fewer today than in years past. The world is a different place today and American attitudes have been hardening.
There are a lot of people who would prefer that America build and hide behind a wall, become isolationist (again) and only worry about ourselves. In a world economy, that type of scenario is pretty difficult. One might think that America First would mean better healthcare, education, rising wages and more equality. Not necessarily, but that’s an argument for a different time.
Americans have traditionally not turned their backs on others. That’s just not who we are. It might be who we become, but that’s not really our values-based identity. Americans have always been known for a caring, active heart.
“We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.” – George Carlin
America has been good to me, and I’ve tried to contribute back. I’ve been in public service for 30 years, helping at the community level, and volunteering where I can. It’s in the community that people live, work, pray, play, attend school, be neighbors and live their dream.
America is not perfect, but let’s never stop trying to improve it. Hate is not a value and division is not a solution. George would probably also say, stop being so fucking serious all of the time.
“Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.” – George Carlin
If you made it to the end, congratulations. George and I both thank you. Now, go do something productive.