I wasn’t going to post anything about this, but it’s been weighing heavily on my heart for over a year now and recent comments on the campaign trail have decided me on it.
Donald Trump said in a speech in Ohio today that the USA must stop apologizing for itself and begin celebrating itself. You’d think he was a millennial talking about a millennial and not a septuagenarian talking about nearly 250 years of history, some of which is so damming and morally repugnant that we would consider invading a foreign power for executing such atrocities today. Furthermore, given the recent litany of events which exemplify how racially divided our country is, it seems all the more important to look at what we have done wrong and to actually apologize for it. The bigger issue at hand however, has nothing to do with America’s behavior, but with our perception of it.
We have a perception of our history which creates a “unified” American Narrative. This narrative goes something like this: we have fought oppression, we live in freedom, and we are the best country/people/place in the world. It is a kind of American Exceptionalism mixed in with a bit of the Righteous Warrior. Modern examples of this narrative, and examples of how this narrative impacts our perspective are not hard to find.
The invasion of Iraq, and calls for the invasion of Syria, are necessary because we are the best and we must quell violence with violence to show the world how.
The Cold War was necessary because American Capitalism was the best and could not fall to Russian Communism.
The Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary because American lives were the best and could not be risked any further.
The Subjugation of Native American peoples and cultures were necessary because American people and culture was better and we needed to prove it.
Slavery was necessary because America needed slaves to show how great we were.
There are plenty of other examples out there, but the point remains that we live in a country which has largely idealized what it means to be “American.” We dress it up with ideas of freedom and prosperity and exceptionalism, never realizing that there are large swaths of the population who share this country, but do not share that narrative. As proof, we need look no further than the Flint water crisis which was all over the news and made national headlines, and yet a massive demonstration by Native American Tribes against an oil pipeline that threatens their water source is largely ignored.
I grew up overseas and I have always been proud to call myself American because I have always believed the American Narrative. That belief is shattered. I am still proud to be American however, because I also believe that once we come to terms with the truth of our own history we will actually be able to become a morally exceptional people.
I have no idea. Maybe we need our own Truth and Reconciliation Committee, although that would be hard to do since it would require a lot of people admitting that we have done wrong.
Maybe we need to build more monuments, monuments to slavery and lynching and the repugnant Boarding Schools we forced upon the native population.
I am not very well versed in these things, but as a man of faith I am versed in repentance, and the USA as a whole, needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize just what we’ve done wrong in the last 250 years. It is not a quick fix. It is not easy. It will take time. But there’s no point in celebrating something that can be, but never was.