America the infallible

Since grade school, Americans are presented with a fabricated idea that America is somehow better than any other nation.

We're drilled with concepts and often sensationalized stories of Christopher Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, and how a rebellious group of 18th century colonists, frustrated by taxation without representation, would win a war for independence against the best trained and best equipped army in the world, and there's been no turning back ever since. We're told that innate freedoms – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – are an impeccable part of our almost fairytale-esque democracy, and we're taught to love all things considered “American” ... hot dogs, apple pie, and the English language.

To an extent, we're taught America can do no wrong and that other countries live life in the shadow of the eagle (to coin an old cliché). And we're taught that America the beautiful is, in essence, America the infallible.

I certainly wouldn't argue that such ideas are entirely a bad thing. On the contrary, I think pride in one's country is a necessity for survival. After all, a nation absent of a sense of nationalism is a nation without a future. But I also believe in too much of a good thing, a nation with too much pride that borders on a sense of arrogance and vanity. And unfortunately, I think America tends to fall into the category of the latter.

Because last Thursday was Independence Day, it only seems appropriate to eulogize our great country born of radical ideas and a desire for democracy. It's important to recognize July 4th as more than a day of parades and fireworks, and equally important to fathom our good fortune. What would our country be without the original ideas of Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson? Where would we be without freedom, without the Constitution, and without the countless men and women who put their lives on the line to protect it? No doubt, they're important questions to keep in mind, but how many of us actually do?

My guess is, not too many ... well, not as many as there should be, anyway. Truth is, and it pains me to say this, I think we are a country full of ignorance. It seems a bit brash to say, but to prove my point, how many people do you know who can name their local representatives? How many could tell you the number of Constitutional amendments, or number of stars and stripes on the flag and what they symbolize? And who could cite reasons for the drafting of our country's Declaration of Independence in the first place? It's ironic that while 3.4 million viewers laugh at the answers Jay Leno gets when he asks these questions during his “Jaywalking” bit, an estimated 1 in 3 Americans would actually fail the citizenship test. Hence our abundance of conspiracy theorists and witch hunts. It puzzles me that we try to be the world's police officer when we can't even get our own country in order. America the infallible? Hardly.

Maybe what all this comes down to is a new way of thinking: What makes an American? Surely, it can't be as simple as a love for barbecues, firecrackers, and baseball, the most boring yet oddly appealing sport in the world. Maybe the only “Americans” are those who have already passed the citizenship test and those who have voluntarily served. Arguably, those are the only two demographics that have earned it. As for the rest of us ... well, we're just lucky we were born on U.S. soil.

How much better we would be if we could just realize how little we know.


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