America’s stature around the world and at home appears to be in rapid retreat right now. A recent poll showed that a record low 43% of Americans would describe themselves as “extremely proud” to be an American. I do not greet that news with the alarm that many media pundits have. Speaking as an American man with a prideful predisposition I have no problem with that. How valuable is it really to be “extremely proud” of something that is attributable to accident of birth anyway? Doesn’t “extreme pride” in one’s national origin set up the poisonous supremacy paradigm that has caused humanity so much misery throughout history? It is a short step from my feeling of “extreme pride” in my country to my feeling of supremacy over yours. Since America has never been oppressed by anyone, it hardly needs the ego boost or self-esteem coddling of “extreme pride.”
I consider that poll an indication that the Trump Era has led many Americans to simply look in the mirror and not bullshit themselves anymore about the reflection they see. What we are as a nation does not match up with the mythology that has been a part of our socialization and indoctrination. A clear-eyed reflection reveals that our most iconic American figures have fallen and many of us simply refuse to ignore it; like the guy who knows he’s gotten out of shape and finally gets on a scale to see how bad its gotten.
It is noteworthy that the failures of our mythological icons have not just been performance based , they have been failures of institutional and individual character. Stated plainly, the figures that have provided our inflated national ego have turned out to be either fantasies or frauds. This view can be validated both anecdotally and factually. To drive the point home we’ll do both.
From the nation’s founding we have been socialized to look to the church for leadership and community stability.
But to preserve that status in we have had to either ignore or downplay the ugly reality that in all types of churches in every corner of the country, preachers, pastors and priests have been sticking their hands down little kids pants and into their parishioners’ pockets with impunity for decades. Of course that doesn’t mean that all men of the cloth are lying in wait to lay the wood to your wife or your child, but it does mean that you would be a willfully blind sheep to ignore that possibility and place anybody on that “Father Flannigan” pedestal. That just isn’t a reality people can rely on and the great majority of us knows better now.
Consider what has happened between cops and citizens over the last several decades. The indoctrination to look to the police for both protection and moral leadership has stubbornly persisted. However, because now there are cameras everywhere, there is a never-ending loop of video evidence that cops patrolling the streets are often just as dangerous for some Americans as the streets themselves. Objective observers are not stupid enough to keep buying that line about “99% of the cops are good people just trying to do their jobs” when that 99% never shows up to beat the shit out of that 1% who keeps getting caught on camera abusing their authority and tormenting citizens.
Cameras have created a circumstance where your average fair minded white person now knows what nearly every black person has always known: Be wary of the police. So we have discovered that iconic Sheriff Andy Griffith really isn’t a character we can expect to see. There’s a lot more Bull Conner energy out there than good ol’ Andy.
Clearly, rotten reverends and corrupt cops roll like that because they were evil-doers to begin with and gravitated to those positions because of the power, access and opportunities they provide. But what about those folks cast as iconic figures who just collapse because reality betrayed them just like the rest of us? Consider the plight of American farmers. We learned songs in kindergarten about “Old McDonald” and his farm and some of us even went on school field trips to a local farm to pet the animals and watch them churn butter, grind grain and pick apples. It was a lot of fun, especially for city kids who never got to see wide open spaces and nature like that.
But today life is so hard for American farmers due to corporate farming and world-wide agricultural commodities markets that farmers are one of the leading groups committing suicide in America. The economic pressure is leading them to end it all rather than continue to fight the uphill battle for the life they expected to have if only they worked hard enough. So the American farmer has fallen and he can’t get up.
What about the American soldier – the most sacred icon of all? American soldiers are so ground down and screwed over by their government that their families are often depending on charity to survive while they serve tour after tour in endless wars. If they haven’t gotten shot in the field, or started shooting drugs into their arm, they are as likely to come home and shoot themselves out of PTSD and depression.
The objective observer can see that these most faithful Americans of all are being conned by our government. All the pageantry, pomp and circumstance at sporting events and funerals is nice but being given adequate compensation and care for their service is better. So while many of us may care for them and respect them on a personal level, we know they are being played by politicians with a bunch of phony- bologna hero-worship, flag-waving, and public saluting. And nobody wants to get played. So you have American men like me, who have had blood relatives fight in every single war since the founding of this country, advising their own sons to pass on military service. The fall of an iconic figure cannot be any more complete than that.
Besides being in full blown crisis, all of these mythological icons have one major issue in common: all of them overwhelmingly supported the biggest fallen icon of all – the current president. His dispiriting failures cover the full gamut and are well documented.
Trump publicly stokes the emotions of cops, soldiers, farmers and select church folks and rides their commitment to their own mythologies to sustained political power. Its a toxic elixir and its making the whole country sick.
Accordingly, if 57% of Americans are feeling anything “extreme” these days, pride most definitely is not it. It is more likely regret.