I know most of you don’t want to hear this, but I need to get this off my chest. This is not a critique of President Obama’s speech; it is a request for us to hit pause during the ongoing political circus and think about premise of the entire spectacle. Why do we need to hear that we are number one from our president every year?
Even after Iraq and the financial crisis, most of us want to hear that America is #1. We are very invested in this identity, this story of us.
One thing I learned in the last three years talking to defenders of the Confederate South: putting pride before facts is a bad idea. Many of us are aware and critical of Confederate revisionist history, but we as a nation of people apply the same principle when it comes to our foreign wars.
We are so attached to the idea of America as #1, the sole Superpower, the good guys with big guns, that we avoid looking at facts. How many people really understand the scale of damage that we initiated in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9-11? How many people care? Yet, we insist that our leaders prop up America as the #1 Superpower measured narrowly by the size of wealth and military power. We want to hear it, we need to hear it repeated to us every year in this elaborate political ceremony called the State of the Union.
I believe that the fear that President Obama spoke of has everything to do with the potential loss of pride and power. We get fearful when we think of navigating the future without being the sole superpower. We wouldn’t be in control; we would feel lost in the chaotic and frightening reality of the current world. So, we enable each other to continue believing we are indeed exceptional and we are entitled to being the sole Superpower, the greatest country in the world. To maintain our identity, pride and place in the world, we never really ask the hard questions about less than stellar decisions of the past and let our story get spun and packaged.
I’m sorry to say this, but I think we’re addicted to our pride and power. And it makes me feel just awful wanting to participate to get that high, but also knowing it is ultimately destructive to put pride before facts.
Trump and his supporters are at one extreme end of this addiction to pride, but most of us enjoy the high/delusion.
This image on the right is a screenshot of a google image search for “American pride.” Eagles, flags, guns, men in military uniforms, and blonde women in bikinis turn up. I do think it’s time for an honest reflection and discussion about the stuff of our national identity.
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