America is not great, and never has been

America is not great, and never has been

No, America is not great. Our history proves time and time again, and only with further time and the continual history we create, we notice the fallibility of our mediocre nation. Our nation is a cultural and political bubble. What we care about is stopped by the borders we confine ourself to, physically and ideologically. For some, this country is the one and only nation that matters, and for others, is deemed the greatest country to exist.

Both are very wrong. Let me clarify: my country is not great, it’s heinous. Our past is tainted in disgust, encumbered by marked graves of those considered people and those unmarked graves considered property. Our past is debased by indifferently sending our young men and women to die in countless wars. Our past is murder, torture, Jim Crow, internment, slavery, incarceration, McCarthyism, discrimination—the list goes on. Our inability to see our past for what it actually is is us being blindly supportive of a meager institution into which we were indoctrinated by saying the pledge of allegiance at a young age. This is excessive, or even extreme, patriotism. 

The current day's excessive patriotism could arguably have started with President Ronald Reagan. During his presidency (specifically in an election-eve address before his first election and the farewell address before leaving office), Reagan used the “City upon a Hill” metaphor to describe America and its place on the world stage. The term “City upon a Hill” originates in the Bible, when Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount, stating “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Early in America’s colonial history, Puritan John Winthrop used Jesus’s quote in a “A Model of Christian Charity” to describe how the rest of the world would see the Massachusetts Bay colonists. For John Winthrop and the rest of his fellow colonists, their habitation was to be looked upon as a model of Christianity for the rest of the world, and as the quote suggests—superior to the rest. Similarly, President Reagan described his interpretation as a “tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.” 

His statement describes nothing that America was, is, or will ever be. His interpretation is a false model of hope, a goal to strive to which can never be attained. His interpretation, and thereafter an ideology adopted by many, is no more than political jargon to correlate a Christian utopia to America. Reagan asserted that America is a pristine, moral and Christian nation—none of which is true. This ideology places America on a pedestal, and essentially maintains that all other countries look to us for guidance—which they do not do. In fact, his interpretation is disrespectful to Jesus Christ himself for using his words to describe something vain. 

This blind patriotism can make people passionate about things that they may not necessarily even understand. For instance, we learned to say the pledge of allegiance every day before we even learned American history. We were essentially forced to give an oath to something we had no idea about. Why is sitting down during the national anthem controversial? We were told we do it because we love and support our country. But as citizens of America we are not required to love and support our country—in fact, our first Amendment right tells us that. We may appreciate and acknowledge the existence of our country’s constitution and laws, but we by no means must support our country when it chooses to send people to die in wars or to unnecessarily kick people out of our country. 

Our military is mighty, but it’s not a solution. By supporting our troops we inherently support the people who send our troops to wars, battles and death. Yes, of course we must care for the soldiers that fight on behalf of our country, but why are they being sent? For many, it is easier to put a patriotic magnet on a car’s bumper than to actually research the underlying historical discord in the Middle East and the US military policy being used. Patriotism requires support of country, but also requires knowledge of what is going on in the country. Doing the former without the latter places the importance of our country on having patriotic bumper stickers, apparel and “Make America Great Again” gear rather than actually understanding policy and how policy affects people. 

For too long we have been blind patriots making grave mistakes. We must open our eyes and see that our country is not great and never was great. We must stop correlating patriotism with how great our country is compared to the rest of the world. We must direct the compassion we have for country to the actual people that make up the country. We must stop lying to ourselves about how great we are to make us look better. 

We must stop trying to be a model, or a city upon a hill, for all to look up to and start fixing the problems in the actual cities and towns that already exist. Patriotism for our country is great, but patriotism alone will never make our country great. 

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