"Men love their country, not because it is great, but because it is their own." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca
I love my country. I like being American.
This stance has caused me a lot of grief over the years. Cynics and poets, song-writers and college students, industrious business people and pious religious, politicians and plumbers have all try to cure me of this malady.
"America has fallen," they'd say. "She isn't the greatest. She never was. Look at how we treated the Irish/Blacks/Native Americans/Illegal Immigrants/Unborn. Look at what we're doing overseas. Look at our taxes. Look at our violence/unrest/immorality/goals/debt/education standards. How can you look at that and still like being American?"
They'll tell me that Americans aren't really free. That our political system is so screwed up that there's no saving it. That, despite my starry-eyed view of the world, there is a deeply embedded aristocracy in America that's keeping the peons down (depending on who you talk to, this class of silent superiority is either Big Business, Lawyers, Entitled Political Families, or some combination there-of). And we really aren't really freer than other countries - in fact, we're worse off, because we don't allow prostitution, or the killing of children after a certain age, or the free use of recreational drugs, etc, etc.
"So you see," they'll say sympathetically, patting my little head and giving me a lollipop to ease the disappointment. "America isn't awesome. It's corrupt. It's dying. It isn't worth your emotion."
They mean well - they don't want me to be disappointed, as they have been. They want to protect me.
But a woman doesn't love her husband because he's perfect - she loves him anyway. A man doesn't love his daughter because she is an angel, but because she is his child. A boy doesn't stop loving his dog because it chews the boy's shoes and a girl her horse because it threw a shoe. On this planet, we don't love the perfect: we love that which is our own.
There's a case to be made for this love of the imperfect: you don't invest in what you don't care about. A mother who loves her children will take care to cloth, feed, and nurture them properly. A teenager who loves his car will fix it, polish it, and upgrade it. A farmer who loves his land will work to see that not only does it produce the food he needs, but does so in a sustainable way. Loving your country doesn't mean being blind, or stupid, but caring. It means nurturing, investing, giving back, holding up standards, and meeting them.
My friends who have given up on the country are less likely to run for office, vote, or participate in civic events. "What's the use?" they ask. "It's a rigged game. You can't win."
Tell that to the suffragettes and the Civil Rights protesters. Tell that to the activists against child labor, for environmental protection, the Prohibitionist (who scored an amendment) and the pro-Liquor groups (who took it back). Tell it to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Tell it to the self-made millionaires, the property owners, the immigrants, the new citizens, and everyone who has benefited from the public school system. Tell that to the Home Schoolers, who finally have the right to raise their own children, and the churches who are, unlike in other places, allowed to worship and live their faith in peace.
Yes, there is prejudice. Yes, there is unfairness and the game is rigged by those who play it. There's bullying and there are shocking cases of injustice that demand our attention. But these will not be changed by throwing up our hands and claiming inability. Problems aren't solved by those too 'smart' to care. They will be solved by those who care anyway. Legal rights will be won by starry-eyed dreamers who marry their idealism to practical maneuvers. Justice will be championed by the stubbornly optimistic, by those who still believe in the forefather's vision of a haven for truth, justice, and freedom.
The country will be saved by those who love it enough to inconvenience themselves.
So, yes, I love my country. And I like being an American.
Happy Fourth of July.