Rediscovering our American Narrative

By Jordan Service —

© Jordan Service “Dirty Mouth” Digital College 2017

There is a growing consensus that “America” has been lost and we need to be found.

This is coming from the right as the loss of “family values.” The family unit has been replaced with the corporate unit. Rampant globalization churned through the heartland, sorting out intellectuals to bigger cities for service jobs, and shipping manual labor overseas. The old style of a life of labor that could support a family with dignity no longer exists. The old deal, “Work hard and be rewarded,” is now, “Work hard and get exploited.” The new mandate for a good life is the college degree, and the old truth that you did not have to be an intellectual elite to participate, changed.

This sense of being lost is also coming from the left. As the guardians of the intellectual discussion, the left has continually proven to be surprised that the future is not a simplistic utopia, but seemingly more Olive Gardens, iPhones, and UFC matches. None of those things are bad, just not the basis for a society, and far cry from the optimistic ‘dreams of tomorrow’ showcased in the 1950’s. Instead, we are left with a sense of wanting something more. What happened, this is not a Utopia.

A quick Google search of: “America an Empire in Decline” brings up a depressing amount of articles. Within a hundred miles of a college campus, you’re much more likely to hear a discussion about the problems with American Exceptionalism, than you would hear someone defending that America could be exceptional at anything. The rant featured on HBO’s News Room, solidified the idea with a tirade of facts on the decline of educational competitiveness.

Questioning our greatness is now the normal. This idea of “America” becoming something different, something “less than” even necessitated a new word, something different but not better. “America” became ‘Merica. The final and most casually self-assured addition to the whole theater was the most pessimistic campaign slogan in modern history: “Make America Great Again.” Which completely assumes we have failed in upholding our legacy.

But did we ever stop to think, what is “America”? What is the legacy of “America” that rallies three-hundred-million-plus people together? Have we even challenged the idea that America is on a downward path?

I was thinking of our troubled past and the flimsy nature of our experiment in combining all types of people from around the globe. I was also thinking back to our ‘founding fathers’, and while they were in privileged enough positions to see the light of freedom, these men did not even have it for themselves. The Founding Fathers were subservient to a king, a supposedly “great man.” Around them, the truth of the age was obvious: Some men are stupid, some men are drunks, women are mainly objects for men… and they all needed a king to lead them.

Out side of their own culture, were brutal cultures who gained value through dominance rather than creating value for themselves. Inside of their own so called ‘civilization’ was an internal brutality, where you couldn’t own yourself.

Brutal cultures of domination were the common experience to our Founding Fathers. They were part of a brutal culture, and were brutal men themselves, but they envisioned a brighter future. A different kind of society, one based on the word of law that represents justice and fairness, not brutality and dominance. So America was not great by the individual-strength of a some legendary hero, but together our founders asserted a great ideal. That ideal defies the basic brutal truth of dominance, and asserts that a system based on equality is better. We challenged an old narrative and replaced it with one that did not yet exist.

Brutality was the prevailing norm, but the Founding Fathers established a radical reinterpretation of human nature — “Some truths are self evident, that all men are created equal.” The caveat was that all men and women were, literally, not equal, nor was this at all obvious at the time. But by asserting this ideal the goal was defined. Liberty and justice for all. Our responsibility as citizens is to uphold our legacy as people who will not accept the present story, but as a people who are forward-looking, optimistic and willing to work towards a better world.

Our history is not a history of strong men, but of the brave ordinary people who will fight for an ideal rather than live under a hierarchy of power. What made our founding fathers great was not that they weren’t brutal– everyone was– but they didn’t want to be.

The story of the world has been the history of brutality, domination, and corruption. America would stand as a light against that. America is not some Quixotic quest to negate corruption, but a society of people that will insist on the perpetual fight against it.

The story of America is the story to fight for this new ideal: rather than create a hierarchy of dominance, we will create a society of free equal people united by our ideals, not the obvious brutality of “might makes right.”

So when I think about America. To all of our history, genocide, slavery, internment camps, ‘red scare’ and all our proverbial warts. I still come up with one conclusion:

America has been and will always be a great nation.

Not because of great men, but because of great ideals. Not because of a history of strong and brutal men, but despite them. We were small spark striving for the light of liberty, that defies the obvious brutal truth of the past hierarchies of domination.

America is a nation of free people who stand against tyranny and rally behind a core principle: we provide liberty with justice, for all. The flawed people writing that statement couldn’t realize it’s entire meaning, yet they established a legacy of an ideal. An ideal which we must redefine every generation.

This is the ideal that makes America great. This is the incorruptible truth of America, this is our core. We are great because our vision of the future is great, and our past is the story of people fighting against tyranny where they saw it– even, at times, from our own government.

The history of the world was filled with corruption but America was going to be different. We are going to be fighters against that force of corruption. Our story comes from all types of people that have looked to the promise of America, upheld our ideals of equality and justice, and fought to make those ideals a reality.

The story of America and the legacy of our values is the great story of fights for freedom.

America was great when the first pilgrims stood up against the tyranny of the Church of England, saying you should be given the right to think for yourself.

America was great when we defied the King of England, and demanded that no King is greater than a subject, and that all men are created equal.

The men that wrote those words couldn’t imagine their weight, nor the fight to up hold their value– Which is not an obvious truth, but a claim that defies the brutality of physical might and would echo across the generations.

America was great when we realized that forces of corruption and tyranny can transform our homeland and that we must always fight for freedom with justice.

America was great when abolitionists stood up and fought against the international slavery industry.

Brave people like Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery to the north, and challenged the intellectual elite with oratory that changed hearts and minds.

Harriet Tubman, who saved people by creating an underground network to provide Americans there right to freedom.

Or John Brown, a man so repulsed by slavery he would take up arms to fight it. Brown was ultimately killed while freeing his fellow Americans raiding slaver outposts.

These heroes looked at the narrative that was being told to them: “Slavery is the natural order, some people are better than others.” They said, “No, this is not American! All men are created equal!”

Excuse me: All people are created equal.

Because America was also great when women stood up and demanded their place at the table of society. Leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two great Americans that met as organizers in the abolitionist movement, they then turned their eyes to justice for women. Many brave American’s fought for their rights, for freedom and self-governance. They voted and were arrested, but as Americans, they did not stop because they did not accept injustice.

When racism took over in the Jim Crow south, America responded and a great leader rose up. Martin Luther King Jr. was not afraid of his dignity, but emboldened by his moral position. He lead non-violent protests showing the resolve of American bravery in the face of basic human fear. A fear that holds the most un-American value: “for some reason, I’m better than you.” American’s have a strong sense of morality, we loath injustice. The history of America is to demand the promise of America: Liberty and Justice for all. Martin Luther King Jr is the legacy of America.

America was great when women also demanded equal social rights, and a second wave of feminism fought for and continue to fight for equality in the work place. The history of America is the history of feminism, it is the history of all justice. It is not a history of peace, it is the history hard fought battles, battles against forces that are larger than a woman or a man.

This is our history. It is the history of fighting Tyranny. Of fighting what has been deemed “normal.” America stands as a light that beats back the worst of our human nature.

International gathering of woman suffrage advocates in Washington, D.C., 1888 –Library of Congress

King at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. –Wiki Commons

When corporate interests want to risk the drinking water of an entire region, and bully sovereign native lands, how does America respond? With the largest gathering of the first American nations, all rallied for the common goal: to protect the water.

When the US government pushed back hard with violent tactics injuring and putting people at severe risk, America’s response was great as the arrival of two-thousand military veterans supported the rights of our civilians and to say, ‘No, we will not stand to injustice, we will not be bullied, we are Americans!’

When cops brutally beat civilians in the street and the police lose the sense of justice by killing black people at unprecedented rates. How should America respond? With greatness. With the courage to stand up to a corrupted police apparatus, and to demand police reform. Our promise is liberty with justice for all. So America is great when we stand against violence– even from our so-called “peacekeepers”.

When there is an immigrant crisis do we turn them away? Or do we remember that we were once immigrants in a foreign land as well? Which, is not only the legacy of America, but of Judeo-Christian values, and the basic sense of taking care of the weak and downtrodden.

So, back to the original statement. Does America need to be made great? Is that how we speak about our legacy? The original phrase is eerily similar to a Nazi slogan. “Make Germany Great Again.” Does this sentiment stem for our ideals of inclusiveness? That greatness doesn’t come from power, but from the commitment to a great ideal: freedom with justice for all.

This echo of fascism does not live up to the legacy of the brave women and men who have fought to make this country great, but it does it serve to steel our resolve against a worse nature. The worse nature that was present at the founding of this country. The same nature that, we as America, have been set up to oppose, and a nature that we have fought and prevailed against every time.

Is America a fallen empire? Have we lost our way? Or maybe the world is always churning, the path is not clear, and things are not so easy. Maybe easy was never part of the picture because Americans look at easy and scoff at it.

Easy was never part of the design, greatness was.

Americans look at a corrupt political class that is out of touch with the electorate on both sides. A recent past built on a lack of vision, a failure to recognize the complexity of global markets, and failure of the neo-liberal / Neo-conservative model to provide a tangible benefit for the average person.

We look at a giant out of control system that has shifted to a politics of identity on both sides. On the left an identity built on “our turn”. This denies American values by asserting we are a different people and forgetting our essential shared identity: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all. We are not a turn-based, shift in hierarchy, culture. When any American suffers we all suffer because we demand Liberty with just for all.

We cannot be so pessimistic that we subconsciously assert: ‘justice for all is impossible, and so we must take turns.’ We must be diligent in routing out systemic iniquity that affects all Americans differently. Focusing on the identity of one group whether black or white, women or men, Christian or Muslim, Democrat or Republican– any group, you name it– distracts us from our common legacy of values as Americans, and creates division in our ranks by replacing our story with a false legacy of identity.

On the right, the outright xenophobic, child like and cowardly response to modern crises, with decisions lead by fear rather than leadership seeks a candidate to “protect their own”. It creates an identity of people not shared by values but shared by what? Locality? Skin tone? Labor class? What are the shared values that right rallies behind? Because it is increasingly looking like: “protect your own” and “might makes right.”

Both of these sides are not American– it is never American to be on the side of the small group looking to get an edge, but to be on the side giving help. We must stop and think is this current atmosphere American or ‘Merican?

We know that in every generation humanity will try to corrupt itself. The politics of raising up the individual are much easier than politics of equality– after all it is easier to change yourself, than to change the world. The forces of bigotry, hate and greed are all too real, but the history of the American people is story of the fight against those forces.

This is our only story: We are a people united by values, and our legacy has never been just carried by one group. Our story is not a group united by race, gender, sexuality, or religion. But a people united by a shared idea.

The history of our nation, the history of our greatness, is not our obedience, or willingness to accept injustice, but our legacy to fight against tyranny at all cost. America will always be great, as long as Americans are committed to fighting for it. The bright light of our republic shall not go out on our watch.

When a leader shouts hate and division, America will fight.

When our leaders sell out our laborers for the Tyranny of industry, America will fight.

When Americans are bullied and told we don’t need clean water, America will fight.

When our black citizens are being murdered in the streets, America will fight.

When our legacy to strive for Liberty with Justice for all is not upheld, America will fight.

America has always been great, our past, future, and most critically, our present, demands it.

Don’t forget who we are.