Irony is a funny thing when it comes to patriotism.
One of my professors went off on a questionably relevant tangent that led to the all-too-familiar hyperbolized characterization of what Americans think of America: “We’re the greatest country in the world! We’re number one!” my professor would proclaim impersonating, you know, an American, of course! Yeah, right. As crazy as it may be, the truth is we sound nothing like that and haven’t for the past 20 years.
The arguable irony is that we as Americans actually don’t view ourselves very highly at all. We are a bunch of bullies. Whoever wants to learn a spot-on impersonation of an American today would need to do virtually no gloating and a whole hell of a lot of complaining. Some warranted, plenty not.
Today, the American people lie at the intersection of a nation dealing with big issues and its irresistible fixation to find something to cynically nitpick or spin, much like the mainstream media. This brings me to discuss where we get this negativity about ourselves.
While the media may not hope for disaster or grief, they ultimately profit from our viewership. Sadly enough, we only watch the news in large volumes when disaster strikes or our test scores drop.
Take education for example. Despite the complexities of an issue like education in a nation with at least 50 million people between 1-19 years old, there has been a great deal of hype regarding how nations like Finland and China are outscoring American students.
Of course, most of us who love to complain will immediately consume those facts without hesitation and regurgitate them in outrage to the next person we meet without stopping to even consider that the number of people between 1-19 years old in Finland as of 2005 amounts to about 620,000 people, half of the Richmond metropolitan area.
And China? While it is ever so appalling to see a chart that has China ranked anywhere above the United States in test scores, a complacent complainer will fail to learn that because the Chinese and other Asian countries rely even more so on standardized tests than the U.S., they do poorly in information retention and critical and creative thinking.
But you won’t read that anywhere. You know, anywhere Americans are apparently waving their foam finger around.
We spin and flip virtually every issue the same way. To us, all issues are crises, and America is always in crisis, always in decline. Our integrity is constantly questioned by our own.
When a bridge in Minneapolis collapses, we unjustly question the infrastructure of the entire country. When we see an obese mother and her tubby children walk out of a McDonald’s, we cast all Americans as slobs slouched in a recliner with Cheeto residue on their fingers. When we send missiles into another country in hopes of ending a violation of human rights – and yes, protecting our interests – we bash our government for being habitual warmongers, ignorant of the fact that the success of many nations depends on the prosperity of our own.
Yes, we have road problems, fat people and instances where we have not considered the result and immeasurable sacrifice of war, but do not allow anyone to have you believe that this country’s people are as arrogant or this country’s well-being is as fragile as is reported, impersonated or spread through word of mouth.
One of the more unfortunate aspects of our country’s self-esteem problem lies in the fact that this positive rhetorical outlook, not unlike what is written here, has been all but trademarked by the right-wing because everyone has allowed them to do so.
Most have become so cynical that we’ve abandoned candidly expressing our patriotism because we do not want to be perceived as arrogant or naïve. Unlike what it seems today, there should be no license on open patriotism, and nobody should be afraid to wave an American flag or blare country music because they think other people will think they are a Republican.
We should all be openly patriotic, but in moderation so we are not pegged as ignorant or cocky.
The truth is for a country as large as ours; for a country as diverse in race, religion, nationality and ideas; for a country as free as ours that provides basic equal rights to all citizens; we are the best at what we do given the circumstances.
America has problems, yes, but we ought not pretend we genuinely put this country on such an impossibly high pedestal only to deliberately kick it off at the sight of the slightest shocking headline or minute development. We are a wealthy, powerful, prosperous and generous nation, but we are far from flawless, and we shouldn’t be outraged when those flaws are shown for us and all the world to see. We ought to be consistently reminded that we are always working toward a more perfect union.