Not the Post-Independence Day Message You Hoped For

superman-citizenship-1303916053While visiting Canada two summers ago, I learned Superman renounced his American citizenship. Apparently—I don’t follow Superman anymore—he wanted to be a citizen of the world instead of belonging to one nation.

Or so he said. Was he just being politic, eluding the fall-out from admitting he no longer felt proud of being from the U.S? Judging his feelings by my own, I wonder, was it really Superman’s queasiness about “The American Way”? Could he no longer group America with “truth” and “justice” as he once did?

I can’t be as diplomatic. Aside from wishing—almost involuntarily—for my fellow Americans’ good fortune in international sporting events like the World Cup, aside from feeling special affection for those who risk their lives for American ideals, I’m not patriotic. Oh, our history includes grand aims. Our founding principles inspire me, and our experiment in representative democracy evinces noble intentions, maybe the most enlightened espoused up to that point. Our people, despite seemingly insurmountable struggles and a system increasingly rigged against them, remain determined to make the American Dream true. And many Americans affirm my hopes for altruism and self-sacrifice.

Yet recently I’ve felt ashamed. It isn’t just that we’ve cheapened liberty by transmuting it into the freedom to profit or that we’ve placed the needs of the quite well-off above others, it’s that we’re duplicitous, espousing values we don’t follow—consciously (and seemingly systematically) informing the disenfranchised the system is working just as it ought to, was meant to.

Harsh, I know, likely to land me on an NSA list, but idealists make great cynics. The business of business dominates American discourse. The corporation is not just a citizen but the first citizen. Shareholders and employers eat first, and employees are force-fed a steady diet of cant. “You’re lucky to be working,” they’re told and “we can’t afford to raise minimum wage.” Meanwhile CEOs net in an hour what the average worker makes in month. The brave few who, Oliver Twist-style, step forward to ask for more receive cold comfort. “If we allow unions or pay you more,” they hear, “we’ll go out of business, and your job and everyone else’s will be gone. We’re all in this together, right?” We can’t even tax those who benefit from short-changing others because, despite considerable contrary statistics, they’ve renamed themselves “job creators.”

In the past, Americans asked government to protect them, and the president and congress served to monitor and police industry and curb the excesses of capitalism. Many politicians are still at it, but others say social programs and the muscle of government won’t help, that, in fact, any restriction or handout is bad for U.S. citizens. What Americans need, they say, is “opportunity” and opportunity arises from unregulated growth and tough-love self-reliance. Yet, in American English, opportunity often translates as looking away. “We need less government!” shout those who ought to know better. A cursory scan of American society tells us the majority (which we pretend is our most wise and reasonable perspective) doesn’t stand a chance against the moneyed interests of the self-interested and self-absorbed. Though materially and statistically well-off, this minority shouts at each infringement on their right to amass more. They purchase megaphones to assure they drown everyone else out. They’ve set aside their life rafts, after all.

The Canadian newspaper that brought me news of Superman’s ex-pat status included a point-by-point analysis of how difficult it is to rebuke American citizenship. Perhaps Superman could grease legal wheels, but I suspect more and more Americans feel as trapped as I do. Our nation can’t acknowledge the need for reform, much less create it. We’d rather watch fireworks, charge the iPhone to our credit card, and congratulate ourselves for pretty ideas that, each year, vanish from our reality.

Someone made money on those fireworks, the same way they made money on that patient or that student loan or that prisoner or that gun or that access to oil or that foreign invasion or that special amnesty from pursuing higher ideals and caring for others. I don’t know how Superman feels, but being born here doesn’t inspire me to love that.


Filed under America, Anger, Dissent, Doubt, Essays, Grief, History, Identity, Jeremiads, Laments, Modern Life, Opinion, Pain, Rationalizations, Sturm und Drang, Thoreau, Thoughts, Worry

10 responses to “Not the Post-Independence Day Message You Hoped For

  1. Ouch. Just, rightfully, ouch. On the money (pun intended).

    “…idealists make great cynics.” My god, man. I have for many years now referred to myself as a “realistic anarchist” which amounts to the same thing as a “realistic idealist” or “Idealistic cynic.” I like to think that I have no illusions or delusions about any possibility of my ideals becoming reality.
    Which of course makes me rather cynical.

    Big sigh.

    • dmarshall58

      I’m stuck here too… by most definitions my wife and I are well-off, and I suppose many people see us as part of the problem. We are using “the system” but would favor reform that, though they might take from us, might equalize things more. It’s more a matter of deploring policies that suggest the situation is as it should be. –D

  2. And here I find myself, and my family, trying to use “the system” (the food-service industry with all that entails) to create something outside of the system to hopefully better peoples lives through fostering community and unity through the arts….hopefully…while also finding a way to survive financially. Another Great American experiment.

  3. Margaret Shearin

    It may be a more popular essay than you think. I believe you’ve said only the truth.

  4. Peter Newton

    I am in 100% agreement. Ah, the inequities. Makes me want to tune into FOX NEWS for another dose of “I got mine” mentality. But I find myself more and more backing away from blatant displays of patriotism because of the hypocrisy of supporting a system that was indeed founded on strong American ideals but has since and very recently faltered. Don’t get me wrong–I love this country but it’s also all I’ve ever known. Certainly wouldn’t want to be in many other places that have no cultural, social or historical clue what equality and human rights mean.

    I like to think that we as Americans are in this together. Congress clearly demonstrates that we are not. As long as there’s unlimited, anonymous political donors duping the electorate and no term limits, our country will most likely get worse before AND IF it gets better. I’m not optimistic. Not to mention the wars.

    And yet, I am a poet. My country is not war-torn like what we too often see on the 24/7 news cycle stations. But my country is suffering the effects of war. As a whole, I think Americans are all a bit war-torn. (Thanks “W.”)

    Recently, I wrote this small poem that seems to echo the sentiments behind your post:

    Memorial Day
    I waver
    my little flag

    ~Peter Newton

    • dmarshall58

      Mine was:

      too many syllables
      for haiku

      I’m grateful that this nation still accommodates poets, even if that’s only because they’re regarded as irrelevant or harmless. Certainly, there are worse places to be from, but being from here is supposed to mean more than acquiescence… at least I think so. What’s tough is feeling that aspiring to reform won’t help, won’t even get you close to having the means or possibility of enacting it. –D

  5. Peter Newton

    Memorial Day parade
    I waver
    my little flag

    (sorry, mis-re-remembered it earlier.)

  6. Pingback: Danger Danger | Signals to Attend

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