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An American?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

There is a question I have been asking myself for the past decade, more-so in the time of George W. Bush. What does it mean to be an American? On the surface this would appear to be a fairly straight-forward question. However these days, ask 100 people in this country and odds are you'll receive 100 different answers. Expand that to people around the world, the notion becomes even more convoluted.

Being an American that has lived overseas for the past two years, I have had occasion to speak with people from all over the world. Some of them from staunch allies like the United Kingdom or Australia, and some have been from Bush's "axis of evil." While the people may be different, the answer from all is that America has lost her way. This is exactly the feeling I have felt deep inside. Inside where that sense of right and wrong lives. In that deep place where pride and patriotism once had residence, there is now sadness and regret.

America. That one word once inspired men and women around the world to break free from the shackles of oppression. America. That one word inspired hope in the down-trodden, and dreams in the poor. America. The concept of that word inspired one solitary man to stand in front of a tank in 1989. This one world brought joy and hope to the peoples of Europe in 1945. The lantern of freedom, I'm afraid, has gone out.

Slowly and steadily, much like 1930s Germany, the direction of America has been changing. The Military Commissions Act, repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, NAFTA, GATT, the Patriot Act, domestic spying, suspension of Posse Comitatus have all chipped away at the meaning of America. War in Afghanistan; occupation of Iraq; threats against Iran, Syria, and North Korea; hundreds of military installations and bases around the globe have tarnished the once bright
luster of America (however misperceived).

American's are scared. They are constantly told by their "elected" leaders to be afraid. We have guns in our house, guns in our cars, and God-forbid anyone come near either. We don't talk to each other. We hate. Democrats hate Republicans. Christians hate gays. Conservatives hate everyone. Pundits from the right scream from the radio daily about terrorists, Muslims, Mexicans, Democrats and God.

Why? What happened to our nation? What happened to our belief in what it meant to be American? At one point didn't being an American trump being a Democrat or Republican? Gay or straight? Atheist or believer? Where, and when, did this train go off the rails?

Once we lived in a country which was only limited by the ingenuity and imagination of her people. We, as a nation, sent human beings to the moon! We, as a nation, conquered Nazis and fascists! We, as a nation, built what once the largest, most robust economies on Earth! And now?

How do we get this 'American-ness' back? Can we get it back? I hope and pray that it's not too late, and the dream is not dead. Alas, I fear it is indeed to late. We have fallen so far, and the hour is so late; I feed it is impossible to right this ship. Please let me be wrong.

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