I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve wondered out loud in the recent past whether I’ll meet my demise from a right-wing radical or a left-wing lunatic (I’ve received threats from both before). It’s been easy lately to watch the Supreme Court issue insane rulings, then watch people issue pretty ignorant (but not equal) responses, and let my mind wonder what this country will divide up into 15 years from now. Even amidst this negativity, I’m reminded of a truth that remains self-evident:
This is still the best deal in the world.
Yes, I get it. From the Colonial times until 70+ years into our life as a country, we had slavery. Much of the next century was Jim Crow, then a cruel war on drugs. We exterminated Native Americans with horrible events like the Trail of Tears. The Iraq War was lived as a lie and destroyed a nation, and the Afghanistan War ceased being about principle or 9/11 a good 15 years before it ended. Women have only had the right to vote for about 100 years, just lost bodily autonomy after only having it for 50 years, and saw their only nominee for President in our history defeated by a corrupt misogynist over using the wrong email address. We overthrew the elected leader of Iran and installed a corrupt Shah, and that wasn’t all that odd for us at that time. Vietnam was bloody, and basically to defend our ideology. There were plots to overthrow FDR and Truman because they weren’t crony-capitalist enough. Cops kill unarmed black men far too often. Gay sex has only been legal for about 20 years, gay marriage for about ten. Our babies get slaughtered by armed losers with AR-15’s. Iran-Contra was allowed to go unpunished, and many fear January 6th will too. Black Wall Street was burned to the ground. Enron happened here, just a couple of years before Wall Street nearly burned our economy to the ground. Nixon never faced prosecution for Watergate. Eisenhower told us the military industrial complex would consume us, then it did. We interned Japanese-Americans in prison camps during a war. Ellis Island was closed because the wrong kind of immigrants were coming to our country. Lincoln and Kennedy were murdered for daring to offer a different path. MLK and RFK were killed for not giving up. We didn’t exactly charge into Europe to stop the Nazis until we had to. Basically if you’re not a white, straight, Christian male, this country has definitely failed you at some point, maybe in the past two weeks. There is so much evil and failing in our society that I can’t say it’s totally ridiculous that many people want to give up.
It’s usually not Americans that remind me we’re still a place people want to be. Oh sure, sometimes you see Barack Obama give a speech, or some World War II vet get honored, and you feel patriotism. My reminders usually come from foreign folks though. The best thing my sort-of-large social media following did for me was bring me in contact with people from Southeast Asia, parts of the Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, all of whom tell me they want to come here. In the same way my great-grandparents got on board in Europe and left Czechoslovakia and Poland, people I now call friends of Russian, Persian, Vietnamese, and other descents all tell me it would be a dream to come here- after even reading my political posts that I would have thought deterred them. It doesn’t. This is still the dream for many. As bad as it is, it’s worth remembering that most of the people coming here, hundreds of thousands seeking asylum, come here because life is better than it is wherever the hell they are leaving. It seems crazy to me, but I can’t be right and all of them be wrong.
I try to remind myself that most of the people, damn near all of the people, can’t be as rotten scum as the shooter in Highland Park, IL today. My life experience demands I believe that most people are not the disgusting trash we see on the news. I’m reminded of the rooms full of engaged citizens I met in Democratic Party County meetings across Iowa in my campaign life. I’m reminded of my Republican friend that collects toys to give to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia patients every year at Christmas. I think about my friends who gave limbs and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan for their country, of all political stripes. I think about the several local Muslim Association candidate dinners I’ve attended over the years, where full rooms (many of them first generation) came out to both hear candidates for public office and introduce the candidates to their community. I try to keep in mind the good union members I worked nights in a supermarket with in college and the good working people of labor I’ve sat at dinners with on political campaigns across the country. I just think about the 39 years of people I’ve met in life, and I realize I could count the true monsters on one hand. Like our country, many were flawed. Almost all were not nearly as rotten as their worst moments could frame them. In way more moments of their lives than not, their moral compass turned them towards good. They represent our nation far more than the narratives on our televisions.
Most of what we hate today is a false narrative of division and rage. An algorithm feeding us outrage and despair on Facebook and Twitter. An algorithm feeding us ads that feeds on our insecurities to get us to buy things. An algorithm that dumbs down our entertainment choices and makes sports, movies, and art less satisfying for us. An algorithm that tells us our politics have to be the most divisive version of ourselves possible. On one level, it is us, because the data driving these algorithms is based on our behavior. On the other hand, we’re not here because that’s the world any of us want.
In the adult lifetime of most “older” millennials, we’ve already lived through at least three massive crisis periods. I suspect we’ll see another three or more before reaching retirement age. No doubt it’s been tough and maybe the outcomes haven’t all went the way I and others wanted. With that said, I go back to my foreign friends: they would trade places tomorrow. As flawed as our democratic republic is, it’s still worth fighting for as long as we’re having an election this November. We’re the country that put a man on the Moon, liberated millions of Europeans and Chinese people in World War II, built the interstate highway system, defeated the Confederates, defeated the Soviet Union, elected Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, gave the world jazz, the blues, Elvis, Notorious B.I.G., Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, and Snoop Dogg. Hollywood is the entertainment Capitol of Western Civilization. New York is the cultural and economic Capitol of the West. Countries around the world quote the words of Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence to this day, with all of his flaws and all. It’s Jimmy Carter, not some communist leader, that the world asked to monitor elections for fairness. Flight was invented in North Carolina, the light bulb in New Jersey. For the many faults of our Covid response, it took our labs months to find safe vaccines, while most of the world either bought from us or sought our help. The things this country achieved, from it’s very founding to today, are as startlingly impressive as the bad things I mentioned earlier were bad.
It’s certainly true that we have major problems. It’s also true that I want us leading the way into the future a lot more than the alternatives in this world. Even as I watch more bad news cross my TV screen, I’d rather live here than anywhere else. So I’ll say it again- happy birthday America, you’re still the best deal out there.