Being an American . . . Not as Easy as Perhaps We Thought

Storms are a Reminder of our Insignificance

Hello from my study on the acre,

As I grew up in the early 6os and into the 70s, certainly our country was coming of age, so to speak. We were in a different world and the United States was understood quite differently than it had been certainly up through the First World War and coming out of the Second. We were a world power in a different way and the 48 contiguous states that were America when I was born the country was still figuring out what and who we were. That might sound a bit unreal to many who are coming of age today, but it is true. In my life, in terms of a national identity, as a younger elementary student, we had elected our first Roman Catholic President and yet, this young vibrant person (or at least that is how we understood him) would be President less than three years before he was assassinated. There have been attempts on Presidents’ lives since, but fortunately, we have not lost another President to assassination. However, that was a turning point for our country and certainly for the Democratic Party. Much has been written about that (e.g. President Kennedy was not as civil rights minded as we might think, until he had no choice; he was a hawkish President in terms of the military and Vietnam, Cuba, and the Russian Missile Crisis bear that out; and many of today’s social issues would have been non-starters for the Catholic President, partly because he was just that, and also because those issues were criminal at that point in our country.), but I believe the fact that the next non-incumbent to run on the Democrat’s ticket was Senator George McGovern and he probably ushers as many of the liberal traits of even present day Progressivism as anyone. It might also be worth considering that the next two Presidents after JFK were both forced from office – Johnson by Vietnam and Nixon by Watergate. By the time President Carter is inaugurated in January of 1977, America is a very different place. We no longer trust our government; we no longer believe we are undefeatable (both from Vietnam and from the soon to occur hostage crisis in Iran) and the Cold War with Russia has many in the country wondering if we are headed to an unwinnable war with our Soviet adversary. By the time I was in my 20s, it seems our vision of our country as a place to be proud of had taken some significant hits. As I move forward, this is in some rather broad strokes, but

I remember by the early 80s being told when we were in other countries as tourists it was not a bad idea to have a Canadian flag lapel pin on your jacket for safety. I can say I considered it, but I could never bring myself to do it. That is not a slap against our Northern neighbors in anyway, but rather as a Marine veteran, I could not do it. I remember being told that we would stick out as Americans as we stood on the corner in East Berlin without saying a thing and that we needed to be careful (this was 1985). I found myself wondering why being American was problematic, but then for the first time I wondered what is the image of America? The 1990s had some elements that were a somewhat redux of the 1960s though we do not perhaps see it as clearly as we should. I have read and watched a number of news pieces and videos the also put the events of the last four years squarely unto what happened in 1995. Again, there are a number of news stories across the political spectrum that have made connections between Timothy McVeigh and what happened in Washington DC in these past weeks. Likewise, 1994 makes the benchmark when the GOP captured the Southern White vote, and that has not really been pushed until Georgia in this past election. I have noted this in a number of posts, but I know that most of my generation believes we are strong, patriotic, faithful, hardworking, caring, and fair people (and I will note that would be white people, which of course, identifies me). And yet, let me put it in a different situation, and one I know personally.

Kris, my younger biological sister, and the one adopted with me into our new family, was a lesbian. She did not identify as such until 1978, but that was still much earlier than many people, and she was forced to do so because someone was going to out her in her unit in the Army. So she left the service, having served with distinction, and was, in fact, the Outstanding Service Person on her base the year before. She never really managed life with that degree of success the rest of her life. Neither of our parents were prepared nor were they capable of accepting her for who she was. I know looking back that this was something she struggled with from puberty on although growing up I did not understand why she seemed so different to me. My mother’s way of facing Kris’s sexual orientation was to not face it. If you did not speak about it, it did not exist. What my mother did not realize is that her unwillingness to face Kris’s reality was an unwillingness to accept Kris. On the other hand, my father, somehow believing he was being a faithful Christian, was determined to get her to repent of her sin and be a heterosexual. He thought he could somehow convince her to change. Again, what that did was create a sort of bifurcation of their relationship that was untenable.

Back to the GOP and the South. The white takeover of the South was nothing new; the difference was a certain arrogant honesty about the racism that the 1960s questioned and (as I post this at the end of a week celebrating the Reverend King and the inclusion of an incredible 22 year old poet laureate.) even the progress of the 1960s Civil Rights could not overcome. It is interesting to realize that both Jesse Jackson and David Duke ran as Democrats in 1988, but by the 1990s Duke, the former KKK Grand Wizard would be a force in Louisiana politics. I believe the 1990s is as schizophrenic a time in our politics as we might have ever faced, but because the economy was doing well, and there was still some modicum of bipartisanship, we failed to see what America was becoming as most of us were content in our little bubbles. In the 1990s, some of the people who found their way into the establishment of politics were campus agitator Bernie Sanders, the late Congressman John Lewis, Bill Ayers gets a PhD, and William Jefferson Clinton was an anti-war protestor who becomes President (Pulver, 12Jan2019). By the time 2000 comes along, I believe we have entered a new political situation that creates a tension in this country that most Americans are incapable of understanding or managing. The rise of specific events that asked/required white America to face their marginalization of non-whites, and primarily blacks (e.g. Black History Month, MLK Day, as well as the significant change in the music culture). The Conservative Right as well as the Evangelical Christian movement combined to fight back. Pat Robertson, and evangelicals like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Bakker create difficulties for the Christian Right and that continues even today with the fall of Jerry Falwell Jr.. It is amazing to me how many people argue conservative Christian ideals, but subscribe to as well as practice a Puritanical Religiosity. I realize that phrase might be a bit surprising to you, but consider what each terms means and think about how often what we profess in public and practice in private do not correspond. When I raise this issue with many of my students and then offer an example of how it might work, they are generally shocked by the truth of the argument.

There is a theology noted as liberation theology and certainly elements of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant faiths, and more recently, the black AME Church or others, have raised the importance of the social justice element of faith. Jesus regularly took on the powers of the church and their own religiosity. Most of the Sermon on the Mount has a strong liberation theological bent to it. We are more comfortable in hearing a warm fuzzy God, if you will in the Beatitudes, but they were not meant to be comforting nor should they be today. I believe there is a strong parallel in what is happening politically and religiously at this moment. And all of those who want to shout “separation of church and state” need to come to the simple reality that that phrase is nowhere to be found in the constitution. We cannot march God out when God serves our purposes and put God way when we do not want to hear or listen to the prophetic words that might convict us in our arrogance. The same is with our politics. We cannot argue we hate socialism when we have Medicare, Medicaid, stimulus checks, PPP, unemployment, SNAP, or a host of other things. Some of those including Federal or State Financial Aid for college or any other things that are distributed by our governmental agencies. We too often want all the benefits, but wish not to pay for them. We are too often simply selfish. That is our human nature, and our sense of entitlement, something we accuse young people of, is engrained in our America First attitude that was so supported in our recent past. We are not better than anyone else, nor are we worse. We are simply a nation to whom much has been given and earned, but we are also accountable because of that. That is scriptural also. The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer again come to mind for me. As Bonhoeffer was knee deep (or what would be neck deep) in the assassination plot of Hitler and imprisoned, he began to consider the role of the church in a profoundly serious manner. On the occasion of Hitler’s 50 birthday, the Reich Church swore an oath of allegiance. Loyalty to Hitler was paramount. Bonhoeffer and members of the Confessing Church would do no such thing, but Bonhoeffer saw the church as a servant community and one that needed to be involved in the secular issues of human life, not as a “dominating” or I would add a policy seeking entity, but rather as a calling to servanthood, existing for the good of others. That is not an easy calling, and I believe it is one we too often mistake as believing it is our duty to lead rather than serve. The same can be said about our politics. Leading in the world is not dominating the world, but serving as a resource and, perhaps, yes, that beacon or lantern that is part of our incredible Statue of Liberty. Liberty is not liberty if it only provides to the few. I heard this on NPR the other morning, so the words are not mine, but they are important. Someone said, “A great experiment takes great determination.” And so it is. If we are going to come together, we will not agree on everything, but we can still respect and realize that an election of another President in part of what our country has done for over 240 years. There will always be a winner and a loser in our elections. That is how America was formed and developed. I know that I felt kicked in the gut both in 1980 and in 2016, but I accepted the result. I would question when I believed it necessary and I will not agree with everything President Biden does. As I have noted in a number of my recent blogs, I want to reach across the aisle. It is important to realize that Congress has its same people, with some difference in the power structure. Will the two branches of our government really work for the good of the people? That is a difficult question because I do not believe that has happened for the better part of 20 years. Perhaps we need to as people model for them. Perhaps, we need to consider what we want in all branches of our government and not just in the Oval Office. It is difficult being an American because it is complex. Or so it seems, but perhaps being decent, thoughtful, and fair with everyone we meet might be a start. I know some of my former classmates and students are not happy with the change in administration, but it is where we are. Can we see if a Biden administration really does get a pandemic under control? Can we see if the Congress might work in a more bipartisan manner than they have over the last decade plus? Can we believe, regardless who appointed the Associate Justices, they will adjudicate in a thoughtful and fair manner considering all the complexities of a case? If we are willing to treat each other with the sort behavior we would hope of them, perhaps it could set an example. It is difficult to be an American, but I am glad I am. I think of a song by Styx way back in their early time where they were considering the Bicentennial of our country and what 200 years meant in terms of responsibility. We do have a responsibility to ourselves and the world . . . in the terms of Bonhoeffer, we need to live together.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you a blessed time as we work together for a better world.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

One thought on “Being an American . . . Not as Easy as Perhaps We Thought

  1. Dr Martin,

    Politics, and news in general, is something I personally try to stay out of, mostly because of my reluctance to engage in any kind of conflict. However, there were a few things you mention in this post that I felt were worth commenting on. Specifically, I like you r last sentence when you say “we do have a responsibility to ourselves and the world.”

    It seems all too often that people’s definition of “ourselves” tends to be exclusive. A lot of the time, I think what people actually mean to say is “myself and people like me.” Several of my friends and family members subscribe to this mentality, and I am probably guilty of it as well. I think a lot of this exclusivity is in part thanks to the hyper-patriotization and growing entitlement in America that has occurred over the last century. And now that we’ve gotten this far, no one wants to admit that maybe we messed up (at least no one in a position of strong political power).

    I think that might be what you’re getting at with the title (and content) of this blog post. It’s hard for people to admit they were wrong about their beliefs (something that no one has full control over). The best thing we can do to respond to this reaction is be open to the idea of being wrong. Instead of listening to the the other side of an argument to refute it, listen to the argument so that you can begin to understand why someone would believe it. I’m not saying everyone needs to go out and change all of their beliefs. All I’m suggesting is that we shouldn’t be instantly dismissive of other beliefs. I adamantly believe that if everyone did this (or at least tried), people would be much kinder to each other. Or maybe not. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

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