When I was a kid, the 4th of July always meant that me and the other neighborhood kids got to run in wild circles with sparklers in our hands as the summer sun went down, Dad grilling burgers in the back yard, American flags waving and snapping in the breeze, thick slices of cold watermelon and the “oooohs” and “aaaaahhhhs” of the fireworks show in the local park.
Things have changed since then; America once was a place I recognized: home, a place of comfort and security, where you could count on things being right in the world on our watch, and that we could always be proud of our leaders. Now, well, I’m not so sure. I am having trouble recognizing America these days. I never thought that racism, homophobia, hatred and bigotry would become mainstream. I never thought I would see the day when teachers, firefighters and cops were denigrated as “union thugs.” I never, ever thought I would see the day when a Republican presidential candidate would call the sitting President a “government nig—-“, and I truly never thought I would see the day when the media would not even bother reporting it. I never thought I would see the day when an African-American congressman would accuse the first African-American president of leading people into slavery or call progressives “communists.” I never thought I would see the day when a talk show host would call a young college woman a “slut” because she asked that contraceptives be covered by her medical insurance.
Truly, I’ve seen a whole lot of things I thought I’d never see…and things I never wanted to see. These things make me feel ashamed; ashamed of my fellow Americans, ashamed of my government and ashamed that America has become so very ugly over the last twenty years.
I’ve heard a lot of people asking lately “Is America really exceptional?” My answer is, regretfully, no. When people say “We’re number one!!” what they really mean is that we’re number one in the number of people in prison. We’re number one in military spending, with enough firepower to destroy the Earth 1,000 times over. We’re number one in the number of obese people, illegal drug use, rapes and murders. What these disheartening statistics say to me is that America is succumbing to the same fatal disease that brought down the Roman Empire, with its symptoms of greed, corruption, oppression, the grossly unequal distribution of wealth, rapidly increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity for poor and middle class folks to improve their status, through employment, entrepreneurship and/or education.
It breaks my heart to see what has happened to our country – how petty, mean-spirited and nasty our politics have become. It breaks my heart to have abuse heaped on my head simply because I believe that two people in love ought to be able to formalize their relationship as a marriage. It breaks my heart to hear the men in power telling us that it’s wrong to feed hungry children, wrong to help folks who are unemployed keep a roof over their heads, wrong to pay hard-working Americans a decent wage, wrong to welcome those who come to this country to work hard for a piece of the American Dream, and that the only right thing to do is hand over all our money to the rich and cede our rights to clean air, clean water, clean food and pristine wilderness to the corporations through deregulation, and allow them to take what they want and ruin the rest.
I hope things will change for the better in the coming years. So, happy birthday, America, and please, get well soon.