The 4th of July

That feeling when…

…when you walk into a pub and they don’t even bother to ask, they just put the correct beer in front of you before you’ve even put your butt in the seat.

…when the fireworks have been building for a week already, and you’ve got a place arranged for the “big show” on the 4th itself.

…when you read the news, and realize — again! — that Einstein was right about the definition of insanity.

…when you reflect on the intentional act of treason committed by those who made this day famous, and the executions that would have been their lot had things gone just a little differently.

…when you look and find that the US Capitol still hidden behind fences and razor wire, and wonder if those men 250ish years ago would have risked quite so much if they could see the future.

*sigh*

There’s an old concept in the business world: from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in three generations.  The “model” that lies under that saying is that Grandad has the energy, work-ethic and drive to start the new business; Dad has the smarts and ability to grow it into real wealth; Junior has…well, Junior’s privileged ass spends and mismanages it into freaking oblivion more often than not.

It’s been more than three generations, admittedly, but if you don’t think that “model” reflects the US at this point in time, you’re either willfully blind, or crazy enough to actually be one of the political extremes.

Our current crop of “leaders” is spending us into oblivion with no thought for tomorrow.  And trust me, I am not talking about money here.  Don’t get me wrong, the money side of things is well-and-truly fucked, but the real spending — and the real loss — is in unity, strength and trust.  We are, as a nation, becoming far too quickly that family that squabbles and fights and disintegrates over spending the inheritance we did nothing to earn.

It’s not a question of being the Prodigal Son, who returns after a period of youthful excess.  Nor is it a question of the father, who welcomes his son back from the metaphoric wilds.  No, it’s the fact that both of the political extremes in the US are the “other” brother, the one waiting with a gun in hand to welcome the Prodigal home with a bit of good ol’ American payback.

Far too many people have forgotten just what this little experiment in nation-building means.  For damn sure the extremes on both sides have forgotten.  Note, I quite intentionally prefer to say “forgotten” because the alternative is that they just don’t give a damn, and that does nothing but make everything worse…and when my overly-cynical-ass shies away from “worse”, you know it’s pretty fucking bad!

The thing about the US, and about July 4th, is not that we are perfect.  Nor are we a finished product.  Hell, we are anything but perfect and finished.  We have our warts and faults.  Our shit stinks, just like everyone else’s.  We snore and drink too much and get fat; we argue and fight and throw the dishes; we even shit the bed occasionally…

And that is okay.

The United States is a flawed, faulty creation.  It was created by brilliant, dedicated, brave men who — just like the rest of us — lied and cheated and had bad breath.  What makes the US different — what made it different then, and still makes it different now — is that it is an ideal that seeks to transcend itself, rather than a true nation-state that exists only to be itself.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re very much a nation.  We have all the strength and drive and unity of any modern nation (in the Westphalian sense — don’t ask, just Google the damned term).  But the US is, if you’ll pardon the national pride, better than that.  We are, when you get right down to it, a dream. A dream of a better place, and a better way of life.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”

Yeah, even after more than two hundred years, we still ain’t anywhere close to achieving that.

As a nation we are, at the heart of the matter, the richest and most powerful in human history…and the competition from second place ain’t even close.  We are all of that and more, yet we are also a nation that still fights the all-too-powerful demons of racism and disenfranchisement.  We still suffer the pangs of hunger and poverty.  We still play host to all manner of despair and hopelessness.  We still shit the bed from time to time.

But that’s not what we were founded on.

Look, the Trumpier extreme wants to paper over history with some bullshit morality-play that makes America a perfect, sacred entity that sprang fully formed from some divine brow.  Do you wanna know what “sacred entities” get you in political terms?  Cromwell’s England, and Robespierre’s France, and Trump’s America, that’s what.

Oh, but don’t you on the other side get all high-and-mighty.  The other extreme wants to paint any-and-all as maleficent and oppressive.  The other sides wants America not to be some divine spark, but the nefarious source of all evil in the world.  That is even stupider, to be honest — and when you’re stupider than Trump, you’ve dug yourself into a world-class fucking hole!

Look, I’m fat.  I know I should lose more weight, and I do try.  I really do.  I hike and work-out…but I also happen to love beer and bread and cheese like a young mother loves her first child.  I should be better than I am, but my efforts fall short.  That doesn’t make me bad, it just means I have to keep trying.  It just means that I have to aspire to improve myself, rather than revel in what successes I may have.

Well…America is fat.  Okay, so we’re fat physically, but that ain’t the point.  We’re fat and out of shape socially and culturally, too.  Although we were born that way, our parents taught us that we could — and should! — be more.  We just have to keep trying.  We just have to keep working at it.  We have to keep doing the hard work to cast off the sins of our youth and embrace a style of life, and a way of living, that is healthier for everyone.

No, we ain’t perfect, but none of those who risked the hideousness of being drawn-and-quartered* expected us to be.  No, what they wanted and expected to do was build a foundation for a nation that could — and would — grow and learn.  

*Fine, you really want to know?  Here is the full definition of the British punishment for treason: you are hung by the neck, “gently” so that your neck won’t break and kill you right away.  While you are slowly suffocating, but still very much conscious, your stomach is cut open and your intestines pulled out.  Your testicles are then cut off and burned, along with your spilling guts, while you helplessly watch and choke.  You are then left to hang until you finally suffocate and die.  When you do die, your body is lowered and cut into several pieces.  Those pieces are sent to places important to you as a person, and to the scene of your treason, in order to prove to folks that you truly are dead, and that the State will always exact its vengeance.  Sorry, but you did ask!

In that expectation, the Founders succeeded.  The US isn’t perfect, but the ideal behind it is.  If we can ever truly achieve that sentence that Jefferson wrote, we will have finally fulfilled their dreams and become a nation that can celebrate itself without hesitation or criticism.

Until then, however, those who question and criticize and find fault are just as necessary, and just as patriotic and loyal, as those who will find no fault or failure.  They are arguably even more so, because they want this nation that we all share, and all love, to be more than we currently are.

After all, what human drive is better, or more important, than the drive to improve?  Than the drive to be more?

I want to be smarter and more experienced.  I also want to lose thirty pounds.  I want to be more (and, well, less…but we’ll skip that physical bit).  My father taught me to never be satisfied.  He taught me to be always curious, to always to seek to learn and improve.  When I get lazy and start to slack off, is he wrong to be disappointed in me?  Is he wrong to criticize and tell me that I should be more? No. No, he is not wrong — I deserve that criticism.

Can I expect less from my nation?  Should I expect less from my nation?  I want to live in a place that is more.  I want to live in a place that knows perfection is always out of reach, but strives for it anyway.

{Musical Note — I read a piece this morning that talked about a specific song. Now, that piece tried to reinterpret this particular song as a paean of patriotic praise. The writer of the piece noted that Mellencamp had certain criticisms in mind when he wrote and recorded the tune, but chose to ignore or gloss over those criticisms in order to create a narrative of wholly unquestioning patriotism. Unquestioning patriotism is as un-american as anything I can imagine, by the way. If we don’t criticize, and strive to improve, we stagnate. An America stagnant and unchanging is Rome all over again…}

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