Happy Birthday America! It’s another July 4th and you’re another year older. Let’s reflect a bit on the ways that you are another year wiser as well.
One way we’ve matured dramatically just during my lifetime is in our worldview of other nations. Back in the late 70’s I went to India where I lived and taught for a couple years. It was part of a college program and one of my mandates was to share my experience of India with my fellow Americans upon my return. And I did try, but it felt futile and sometimes even threatening. Literally every time I tried to share any sort of balanced view of India with my fellow Americans, I was immediately shut down. All they wanted to hear was how absurdly stupid Indians were and how incredibly grateful I was to be back home in the good old U.S. of A. Any attempt at balance, nuance, or context was immediately met with almost outright belligerence.
But since that time this extreme provincialism has mostly eroded away. With increasing world travel, virtual exposure through the media, and a tremendous influx of foreign born citizens, Americans no longer have such a myopic view of the world. You can now talk about other countries in a far more balanced and realistic manner. Many Americans respect and even envy our fellow nations. To me, this is a very encouraging and little recognized sign of an older and wiser America.
More evidence of growing maturity is that we have mostly gotten past knee-jerk “Love it or Leave It” reactions to any criticism or even any modicum of self-reflection. The phrase emerged as the mindless retort to Vietnam anti-war protesters during the 70’s. In 1973 Ray Manzarak of Doors fame recorded a song called “Bicentennial Blues (Love It or Leave It).” By the way, the album on which it appeared, The Golden Scarab (see here), has always been one of my most memorable concept albums. The funky-jazz lyrics went:
- Well love it or leave it.
- I really don’t believe it.
- I don’t understand now.
- What you’re talkin’ about.
- I kind of have to wonder.
- Well if you really mean it.
- Cause if you really mean it.
- I better move out.
- You say my country right or wrong.
- If you don’t believe it you don’t belong.
That childish Love It or Leave It mentality expanded way beyond just the anti-war protesters. For a long time it was invoked by many Americans as the immediate response to any overt or even implied criticism of America. You want to save the whales? Love It or Leave It! You don’t like Merle Haggard? Go live in Russia you damn Commie-lover!
Thankfully, we’ve mostly grown out of that kind of ridiculously unintrospective thinking. Today we are largely able to discuss our failings and challenges in a much more realistic and mature manner.
Certainly, this mentality has not yet died out completely. Amongst extreme Conservatives it is still alive and well. They still cling to it like their Bibles and their guns and their Confederate flag. But even they don’t shout this sentiment with quite as much conviction as they used to.
I’ve often been tempted to throw it back in their faces. You don’t like gay marriage? Love it or Leave It my friend. You are against abortion rights? Why don’t you go live in Russia then!
Fortunately more sensible folk dissuade me from this approach. As the Public Professor urges us (see here).
It would be fun. It would be funny. But I say, don’t. Because America, Love it or Leave it! is just as a horrible sentiment now as it was then. It’s caustic, it’s provincial, it’s xenophobic, and it’s anti-intellectual.
I suppose he’s right. Answering childishness childishly is SO tempting, but not really the mature or productive thing to do. Still, it would feel really, really good, wouldn’t it???
So Happy Birthday America! You are indeed not only older but wiser as well!