Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One Nation?

Last night around the time the pundits on my TV were calling the Massachusetts election for the Republican, my thoughts immediately turned to what the poly sci takeaways would be. Sure, there are obvious questions about the Kennedy stranglehold and the legitimate will of the people of the Bay State. There is also the matter of how parity has kinda sorta been restored on Capitol Hill. Despite those things, I couldn't help but think about patriotism. Particularly how it sometimes seems like a contrived pollutant.


Look around the earth. Look at Brazil. Russia. India. And China. Look at Ethiopia and England, too. Or...pretty much every country other than the United States. What you'll probably see when examining different applications of nationalism is a common culture. Things around which people of that nation can define a shared sense of what their country is. Things in which they can take pride. Things they can celebrate. Food. Music. Language. The national

Wherever you are in the long as you're not standing between the shining seas...there is a visceral sense of what it means to be a citizen of that country. One that is celebrated simply and naturally. Which is probably why most countries other than the US seem to talk/act in terms of "nationalism" rather than "patriotism."

Now look around the United States. It doesn't matter whether you see red, blue or purple. What you'll see is a whole lot of different shit. Different food. Different music. Different football teams. And, to the dismay of many, different languages. I think there's a term for that...something like..."melting pot."

I'm not all that bright. Nor am I all that original. So count this as the 4,080th contemplation of what the American melting pot means. This one has as its thesis a simple, fragmented notion of what constitutes America. Which, predictably, is the US Constitution. Rather, the ideas on which the US Constitution and our system of government is founded.

You know all about those ideas, right? You don't need any (more) ramblings from me about the Grand Experiment. Freedom is pretty cool. Whether it's "of" "from" or "to" it is fundamentally good. Case closed.

It's also the kind of thing that is slightly awkward to celebrate. If you're completely and utterly free, then you can do anything. Everything. And if everyone is doing anything, then what exactly are you supposed to rally around? I'm eating a hamburger. He's sluping lasagne. And she's chewing some General Tso's chicken. We're all eating. We're all happy. But we're all doing very, very different things. It's not exactly...united.

But we have the ideas. We have the opportunities. (Kinda). And we have the system. That's what makes an American. And that's it. There's nothing else for us to rally around or to draw a shared sense of identity from. It's not a good thing or a bad thing. It just is. But it's also something that I don't believe we've all come to terms with.

Some of us have a fetish for those ideas and rant joylessly about the imagined obligations that come with them--a counterintuitive act if there ever was one. One man should never be compelled to belittle or squash another man's freedom in order to execute his own.

Others of us misunderstand the ideas completely and exalt frivolity rather than freedom. American Idol hardly rises to the level of idolatry, but it isn't exactly what the founding fathers had in mind when they designed a system of civic engagement.

On the other hand, maybe that's the lighthouse in this murky sea of US identity politics. TV is good, right? That's something that America invented and that's something we can all celebrate. Right?


Maybe not.

There's too many CSIs to choose from.

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