I am worried about America. This is my home. I have traveled through nearly every state in the lower 48 and lived from Staten Island to Santa Cruz. I am the third generation born here; the first to attend college. In light of the shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana and the horror of Dallas, I am worried about what this country has become. When I travel overseas people often ask, perplexed, what is going on? They really want to know. Actually, the ones who despise America don’t ask. It’s the others, people who regard us with fondness, longing, and secret envy.
What is going on? I tell them it’s not American Empire but American Enigma. We have always been different, a mixture of frontiersman and Philadelphia lawyer. Abolitionist and states righter. We are outgoing yet private, proud yet accepting, disciplined yet fun-loving. Hitler derided us as “playboys.” Churchill thought we were crazy. When an aide complained about us, he replied, “They may be crazy, but they’re the only Americans we’ve got.” He was right.
It’s time for us to realize we are the only Americans we’ve got. No one else will save us. How do we do that? How do we “make America great again”? One side in the soap opera of presidential politics would have us militarize, arm, and isolate ourselves. The other would have us surrender our few remaining rights to corporate and financial interests. Neither side puts it in those terms, of course, but that’s the reality. I reject both.
The violence of Dallas was particularly frightening, and “shots fired” from that city is a familiar phrase to many of us. Has so little changed since 1963? We live in a country of gated communities–armed camps–where the hatred is palpable. Firearms give it tragic expression. But we cannot accomplish anything if our cities are turned into Kosovo or Beirut. Some believe that is precisely the point: to bring the security state, created and perfected on foreign soil, home.
I am less cynical but do not dismiss conspiracy theories out of hand. The ones that are historically grounded make the most sense to me, since violence has been part of our psyche from the beginning of our history. De Tocqueville noted it years before the Civil War and expected “great calamities…to ensue” from the mixture of European immigrants, African slaves, and native Indians. How could it be otherwise?
Still, we have a choice. We can choose peace even in the midst of hate. We can act against our baser instincts of fear and revenge, not just because there is no other choice, but because it is the right choice. We can choose our better selves.
How do we do this? By acknowledging reality here and now, not harkening back to days of glory or painting an idyllic picture of class and racial progress. The Dallas police chief, for one, called it by its name: evil. “My name is legion, for we are many” (Mk 5.9).
What do we do with evil? Shed light on it and then turn that light on ourselves, which will be painful. Aristotelian scholar D.J. Allan has said, “One lesson of our age is that barbarism persists under the surface and that the virtues of civilized life are less deeply rooted than used to be supposed.”
We are finding that out right now.
For masthead photo of Miller Caravan, go to toperfect. Note to self: Welcome to the world, Giovanna Deanna Brancatelli, July 6, 2016!