Slight Change of Tack: America?
Earlier this summer, John Sununu said that he wished President Obama, “Would learn how to be an American,” qualifying it later by saying he merely wanted President Obama to revert to the “American” formula of having people create business rather than government. Whether or not he was subconsciously stroking birther flames with that statement, he got the gears in my usually inert head rolling.
After all, what does being an American mean, and what important lessons does one learn before being suitably American? I never went to America camp. Sure I got drunk and did a little flag waving when Seal Team Six iced Bin Laden and I cheered for all the US Olympics teams. I think those things are quite American. However my favorite sport is the definitively un-American soccer, I usually skip the Super Bowl, and I am highly skeptical of the merits of apple pie, and maintaining those sentiments is quite Un-American.
I kid, I kid. What I’m actually pissed about is the spirit of Sununu’s message. There is nothing less American than telling another man how to think. That’s standard first amendment stuff right there, like actually in the Constitution, and you do not get more American than the Constitution. That’s the definitive document of American-hood. Anything in the Constitution is fundamentally American, it’s basically a bill explaining what America is and how it works. I’m not bringing up a Republican vs. Democrats issue – it happened to be a Republican saying it this time, though in the spirit of honesty/disclosure of bias, I think conservatives accuse people of not being Americans more than liberals, but it could have happened to anyone. Whatever the argument though, everyone is allowed to hold whatever opinion they want. One side of an argument might (and likely could) be wrong or dumb, but that doesn’t make holding an opinion on something in and of itself un-American.
As stated, that’s textbook, classic first amendment. You are allowed to think and say pretty much whatever you want. Not even within reasonable limits either, for instance I routinely tell my friends that I hope they died in a fire, and I was once overheard (this is courtesy of Lindsey Liese, as I was much too drunk at the time to remember this) telling Francis Meyo that I wanted to, “rip off his head and fuck his neck.” I am perfectly within my rights to say and perhaps even want to do that thing. Doing that thing would, of course, be a different story, although considering the object of that remark it might actually be justified
Granted on the topic of American-ness, I have another thought. While I might be unconventional as a human, as a history major, I was taught to immediately cry bullshit when someone begins a statement with ‘everyone knows (insert x)’ without having a healthy footnote attached to it. Saying that things are or should be some way and then trying to couch it by saying that to believe otherwise is “Unamerican,” or “stupid,” is sloppy at worst and dangerously misleading at best. Or possibly that’s actually the worst part, I’m not sure. So not only is telling someone how to think definitely not American, but doing so with general statements and without evidence is Unamerican and a fucking terrible method of debate.
EDITED ADDENDUM: For example, I was reading one of Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches a couple days ago (my friend paid me to edit his paper, I don’t do that in my spare time), and one thing really jumped out to me. One of the primary factors behind nonviolence resistance was the attempt to make the oppressors (white people) SEE, truly fucking see, that what they were doing was wrong. To expose them to the truth, and in so doing force them to change their ways else they would finally feel like the shitty people they hadn’t realized they were all along. If the civil rights movement had just taken power from the whites, the movement would have been a failure.
White men would not have realized what they did was wrong, it would have been just a violent overthrow of the status quo that resulted in a lingering anger at their lost privileges on the part of the former oppressors. That doesn’t happen when it’s nonviolent. When you believe someone different from someone else, you do not debate them by invalidating their opinion because it is different from what you believe. You debate them by proving to them that what they think is wrong, you lay the fucking cards on the table (and in so doing may even learn a thing or two yourself) and you both take a good hard look at what you say and what the other guy says, and hopefully unless one of you is particularly shitty, some sort of agreement should be reached. Of course that sort of assumed (In King’s case it was belief in God) that there is some fundamental truth that all men, with all things revealed, should be able to divine for themselves.
Here’s the part where “American”-ness gets fun: as great as being American may be, and as much as we (or some Americans, I don’t like to count myself as part of a group) might hold it up as the best country in the world (using whatever metric they use), we have ludicrously low standards in terms of what it means to be a native American. All you have to do – in the words of the always concise Chris rock, is “Come out of your mother’s pussy on American soil.”
That’s it. If you (or rather your mother) successfully pulls off that trick, you are American, and party to all the benefits being an American confers. You can vote at 18 when you sign up. You can drink super hard legally when you’re 21, (and you can do it illegally before then if you’re sneaky or go to any normal college) and drive a car at whatever age your state lets you. There is no hierarchy of American-ness, either. I am just as American as you are (if you are American), and neither of us are more American than any convicted felon, or less so than the President himself. Rush Limbaugh is just as American as the hippy socialist (douchebags?) he decries. Is it a good thing that every man’s vote counts equally? Not my area of expertise, so I’m not going there.
What is interesting to me, though, is that there are no requirements placed upon our citizenry. Requirements in the JFK sense, “ask not… but what you can do for your country, etc.” Many countries have mandatory military requirements and others have some sort of community service program going on. Do I want to do these things? Not particularly. I am inherently selfish and rarely volunteer my time to help others, and I would be a hilariously inept soldier. Imagine a helmeted Mr. Bean with lower self-esteem and a rifle. Not a good idea.
Yet as much as I may not want to do either of those things, I feel like it almost seems sort of fair? Living in this country and being a citizen is something that I never had to do anything or pay any price or penance to have, and I am given an enormous amount of benefits for it. I don’t know if I believe that spiritual together-ness of the citizenry BS that might come about from everyone having paid some sort of similar debt to their own society, but in terms of quid pro quo, I feel like doing something for the country would be a small price to pay. And it’s not like I’d be taking time out of my busy life to do that either, I’m unemployed on my ass on my computer all day.
I threw a lot of things in there. In short, Sununu was full of shit, America has hilariously low standards for citizenship admittance, I would be a terrible soldier, and maybe making people do something for their country every once in a while wouldn’t be a terrible thing.