On Why I'm Okay With It
History is fascinating and the way we tell stories about ourselves is revealing. I prefer to tell myself the uncomfortable stories. The stories that make me grimace a little – the stories that don’t flatter or strip out inconvenient context. That is to say, that I prefer to tell myself the stories that are true.
But I love this country unconditionally. I don’t want to live anywhere else. I will not move to Canada. I will not share horseshit secession petitions. I love this country unconditionally. I really do.
Aside from the simple fact that accuracy is important, I feel that it’s worthwhile to work at loving my country for what it is. Pretending my country is flawless, exceptional in every way, and the paragon of progress is cheap and shallow patriotism. Unconditional love doesn’t pretend that flaws don’t exist. It knows flaws, virtues, strengths, and weaknesses and works to provide the right support in any of those situations. That support is not always fluffy or easy or pleasant to deliver nor do I often know if I’m doing the right thing. But one thing is for certain. If my patriotism requires me to ignore the truth of my country’s history then it’s hardly unconditional. It’s actually very much conditional. Until it survives a hard reading of history, patriotism is just flag-waving. What’s more, it’s dangerous.
The illusion that the entire trajectory of our country has been one of slow but uninterrupted progress serves to exempt me from considering the consequences of my actions. A vote can’t have any real impact on the lives of women in my life if our country is steadily expanding rights for all. A cabinet appointment can’t limit the voting rights of entire classes of people if we’re always marching toward the full franchise without so much as a glance back.
The fact is that this country can and does oppress. It can and does take steps backward. Realizing that requires recognizing that my decisions could potentially contribute to the regression, and that’s difficult. But it’s necessary. Telling myself that my country wouldn’t do that or that history suggests it could never happen here (whatever it happens to be, it could) doesn’t make those dangers any less real. Pretending our history is different doesn’t erase those dangers, it simply makes me less aware of them and less prepared to deal with them.
If I believe that everything is going to be okay no matter what because of American exceptionalism, because we’re the beacon of freedom, the shining city on a hill, because nothing bad ever lasts and everything always turns out alright then I – by default – believe that my choices have no consequences. Believing that the arc of moral history inevitably bends toward justice absolves me of responsibility for its trajectory. It allows me to frame as simple politics, decisions that I make about the dignity and equality and liberty of others. Some decisions really are about politics. Others never ever are.