I’m not un-American, my government is.
I’ve never been anti-American, though I’ve certainly been accused of it. Our beautiful and diverse country has accomplished exceptional things, plays residence to remarkable landscapes, and contributes (yet is not sole contributor) to a parcel of the globe’s most beautiful language in defense of human freedoms.
But we are born of the original sin of slavery, and though the vast majority of us look with contempt on the practice (while still lionizing the practitioners), there remains a part of our collective psyche that has never really moved beyond that contaminated foundation. We cloak ourselves in merely the jingoism of a magnificent document — a document that so powerfully sustains the rights of the oppressed, the suspected, the accused, and even the guilty (Amendments 1 and 4-8) — but we fail to look beyond the sepia-toned parchment upon which the words are printed.
Instead, we envision the document as only a symbol, and we subconsciously scrawl our own limitations, our own prejudices, our own bigotry in invisible ink onto the visible paper. Meanwhile, we rarely, if ever, genuinely read the inceptive fine print.
I have always been proudest of my native home when we shift closer to the text of our founding document. Sometimes we shift toward the rights enshrined therein with surprising dexterity. Other times we may fumble clumsily, or even jerk about violently, until we ultimately stagger and collapse in the general vicinity of the right direction.
But I do know this:
I will continually champion our leaders to protect our rights to free speech and assembly.
And to secure our personhood in our homes, even in the imperious face of an officer of the law, perhaps an especially courageous officer, yet a man I believe just as beholden to the same text as you or me.
And to secure refuge in the protection of a jury as well as the full force of the due process of law, a process that seeks to protect not the state, but the man or woman dragged before the state.
And to ensure transparency and expediency in this process, in order to protect ourselves from false, forged, or even fraudulent charges.
And as a critical step in recognizing the humanity in others, to uphold the prohibition against “excessive penalties” and “cruel and unusual punishment,” even on the guilty.
I am not anti-American in the slightest, but I do believe, with all my heart, that our elected leaders have once again wandered far from America. Every day, as we tear mercilessly at our fellow brother and sister — while holders of true power and wealth stand back and watch in amusement — we all become a little less American. It’s piecemeal: A slur here, a denial of rights in perhaps one particular instance. A new norm that takes aim at a specific group’s humanity. A red line crossed. The power of money to drown our voices. But as we each angrily grab our invisible ink and frantically begin to scratch and scribble, all of us looking for our personal scapegoats to this SEEMING mystery of decline (which is really no mystery at all), we all become less American. Individually, we all become less “We the People.”
The United States isn’t the soil between Alaska and Maine. That soil is as simultaneously varied and similar as anywhere else in the world. I don’t even have to go far in our inaugural document to discover our mission (and to learn how far we’ve drifted from that mission):
“We the PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a MORE perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic TRANQUILITY, provide for the common defence, promote the GENERAL WELFARE, and secure the Blessings of LIBERTY to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
If that’s what it takes to be American, I’m as blue-blooded as they come.
But keep an eye-out for the self-declared patriots. The original sin is never far from their thoughts and invisible ink is also a powerful eraser.