When I got up this morning, the first day of the extended Independence Day weekend, #NothingMoreAmericanThan was trending on Twitter. You can probably guess the general tone of the tweets without my help, but I’ll give you just a few examples anyway:
#NothingMoreAmericanThan invading sovereign nations and killing half a million innocent civilians
#NothingMoreAmericanThan incorrectly using “freedom of speech” to justify hateful, bigoted and harmful “opinions”
#NothingMoreAmericanThan being “pro-life” but love guns and hunting animals
#NothingMoreAmericanThan Wrapping all your prejudice, bigotry, homophobia, etc. in a flag made in China and calling it “patriotism”.
Happy birthday, America.
Oh wait, sorry, make that “Merica” — that’s what the cool kids are calling it now. Like the people at the Huffington Post who made up the mock quiz described here. (“Who lived in ‘Merica before the Europeans arrived?” “Illegal immigrants.”*) It’s a useful word, “Merica” — you can do so much with it. In three little syllables, it can express your superiority over anyone who feels unashamed, unironic love for this country. It also expresses a casual contempt for the country itself — the kind of tone we’ve grown used to seeing on social media, the kind expressed in those tweets I quoted above.
The last time I blew up at someone for using the word on Facebook (I’m afraid I have a tendency to do this), she defended it for this very usefulness. It so efficiently conflates patriots with racist, redneck, Muslim-hating, “America first” rubes, she explained to me in all seriousness. Essentially, it’s the perfect shorthand for referring to everything that’s wrong with this country and those who love it. And when I took issue with this depiction of patriots, someone else on the thread explained to me that while my own patriotism may be tempered with reason and good sense, most people’s isn’t.
After all, who could love a country that’s as full of faults as this one? Only people equally full of faults, obviously.
It’s interesting that, the closer this nation draws to progressive visions and goals, the more disdain progressives tend to feel for it. Have you noticed this? Everything that’s wrong and bad in this world, from conflict in the Middle East to Pizza Hut coming out with that new hot dog crust, gets blamed on the greed, gluttony, selfishness, blindness, and general loathsomeness of America and its citizens. (When one European restaurant chain came up with an obscenely huge sandwich, I joked on Facebook that at least America couldn’t be held responsible for this one. I’ll bet someone’s found a way by now, though.)
It’s one thing to acknowledge that this country has flaws. It’s another to believe it doesn’t have any virtues. The term “American exceptionalism” has been much maligned, but there was something valuable that went with it: the belief that there was something special about a country founded on the belief that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Now here’s a truth that’s just as self-evident as that one: Since this country was founded, we’ve consistently failed in one way or another to live up to those ideals. (Were you aware that racism existed here before the Duke boys painted that Confederate flag on the General Lee? True story!) But the point was, those ideals gave us something to try to live up to, and good American men and women in every generation have made that effort, out of love for this country as well as love for their fellow human beings. When we lose that attitude, what have we got left? Apparently, only a sort of vaguely formed belief that we have to try to make this country better (read: more progressive) even though it was worthless to begin with and probably always will be. There never really was an American Dream, and even if there was, there shouldn’t have been.
I’d love to know what our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents who made such sacrifices to reach this country, or our fathers and grandfathers who laid their lives on the line to defend it, would have thought of our terminal petulance about it.
Even many Christians seem to be buying into this view in some ways. We’ve become awfully quick to talk about everything that’s wrong with our faith today in terms of America. Thus, we hear, the church here has problems because it’s mired in American complacency, American insularity, American idolatry, and just about every other bad quality that you can stick an “American” in front of. While it’s wise to remember that the church in this country is only one small part of the global church — we make a grave mistake when we forget this — it’s foolish to put the church in other countries on a pedestal and knock ours down in the dust, simply because familiarity breeds contempt. The chuch in every country has its problems, and we make an equally grave mistake when we forget that.
Of course there are times when Christian values clash with American values, particularly as American values drift farther from our founding ideals of religious liberty and respect for human life. Still, when that happens, I believe the proper attitude is sorrow, not contempt — sorrow that a country with such promise has fallen short of fulfilling that promise.
How do we love a country that’s flawed? The same way each of us loves families that are flawed, friends that are flawed, even churches that are flawed. We of all people should know better than to expect perfection from any human being or any human institution. And yet — as hard as it can be sometimes — we’re still supposed to be people who love.
I hope that Christians will learn once again to hold onto these truths, to demonstrate how to walk that fine line, for all to see. As we attempt to live out our values as an example and a help to others, let’s not forget that love for the place in which God has put us, and gratitude for the good things we still have here, should be among those values. We can start with the little things — like learning to speak of our country respectfully instead of thoughtlessly and dismissively. And maybe even giving it its full four syllables.
*There are those who use “Merica” (with or without the apostrophe in front) affectionately, but in my experience, the majority of those who use it are doing it in the way I’ve described.
Image courtesy of About Flags.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.