I have a hard time cheering for America.
This isn’t a phenomenon that’s limited to patriotism. I’m generally awkward when it’s time to hoot and holler and clap. I’m not emotionally demonstrative.
When my wife and I went to see Aerosmith at The Q, I had no idea what to do with my hands. Wave them? That’s not me. It’s the same at Cleveland Indians games — I’ve always felt awkward about jumping up after a home run or booing the visitors. I’m the dork golf-clapping.
Patriotism is far more complicated because I’m being asked to cheer an entire country and its deeply conflicted philosophies. What is our country? What exactly am I cheering? What would get my praise if I knew how to give it?
Would it be Congress? I doubt it. The congressional approval rating is hovering at 16 percent, according to recent Gallup polling.
Would it be President Barack Obama? I voted for him and he’s somewhat acting in the general area of my political alignment, though his stance on drone killings, continued failure to close Guantanamo Bay, and signing of the National Defense Authorization Act are upsetting.
Would it be American exceptionalism? I don’t believe we’re inherently better than other nations. In fact, we’re measurably worse than some in many areas: northern European countries especially dominate us with regard to income equality, prison recidivism, employment rate, food security, and student performance.
Would it be our love for our fellow citizens? Certainly week after week after month after year of mass shootings — such as the 49 killed in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando — have disabused us of the belief we are a nation of fraternal love. We have a capacity for empathy but also a great capacity as a country for darkness.
Would it be our broad-mindedness, willingness to learn, or reverence for intellectual pursuits? I feel an oppressive anti-intellectual bent all too often.
Would it be the might of our military? Maybe — it is an awesome thing. But as much as I love talking with honorable local veterans like Clark Bruner and Tom Hauck, I shrink from lionizing the military. I’ve seen what war and conflict have done to the brightest men and women of a number of several generations. I’ve heard their tales of being afraid in the trenches and of fighting for stability and benefits once back at home. And while their acts in uniform were admirable, modern warfare is so much different from World War II and Korea it’s almost unrecognizable.
Would it be for our resolve as a people to work together for the greater good? I don’t think we’re prepared emotionally or well-enough informed to make any such claim. We’ve become a nation split down the middle by slogans and posturing. We’ve chosen opposing teams. We’re ready to harm each other over political ideals. We’re unwilling to really discuss political differences, instead choosing to just throw talking points at each other in a bid to “win.”
Do we really want to make America great again? Then we need to start listening more and talking less. I’d be able to overcome my strange emotional detachment about patriotism come July 4 if I knew we could all be roaring together to protect those who are unlike us, to achieve a true and lasting strength through peace, to check our privilege at the door, to find ways to turn swords into plowshares, and to make ourselves better before trying to make others better.
That’s the America I’ll be imagining as the fireworks fly.
Jason Hawk is the editor of the Lorain County Community Newspapers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.