What’s the Point, America?

Unless we live up to our ideals, maybe it’s best we just bow out

When laws are broken, ethics violated, principles pushed aside, and rules that come in the form of regulations, guidelines, and norms are either overturned or completely ignored, we need to ask ourselves, does anything matter anymore?

Our universal beliefs are in question. Any sense of a shared reality is going out of focus. The ideals we all used to strive for are no longer important. And the common bonds that have held Americans together are being pulled apart by forces seemingly now out of our control.

As the damage piles up, will there be a point when we snap out of it? Will we arrive at a moment when we finally come to our senses? When we decide that all those fancy words we’ve used to describe ourselves since our nation’s founding are more than just words, they’re our path to a better future?

If we don’t, then maybe we just call it. No encore. No more greatest hits. We head off the world’s stage, stick our heads in the sand in peace and quiet, and live out our self-fulfilling fantasy land of American-made greatness. It’s our exceptionalism party and we can cry if we want to. Then we can double down on our callous, cowardly behavior where the only entity we have to answer for is me-me-me. Maybe that is, in fact, what we’re deciding to do.

The famed punk band Screeching Weasel put it best:

Cause we don’t give a shit about tomorrow!

If the central promise of America is that any kid, no matter the starting position, can grow up here and become something great, it’s safe to say that promise is broken. And rather than working in the direction of putting that promise together, we’ve chosen instead to throw that promise in a dumpster out back.

And set it on fire.

Since America elected its latest government, we’ve heard, from the highest office in the land, full-throated defenses of Nazis, strange compliments of brutal third-world dictators, and the press be called enemies of the people.

We’ve seen this latest elected government ban an entire religious group from entering the country, take health care away from millions of people, make it harder to vote for millions more, and take kids in immigrant families away from their parents as they seek refuge in our land of opportunity.

In terms of the national direction, the course to which America has set for the future, the nation is currently charting forward on a path of chaos that no longer cares much about the health of the environment, the health of the average person, the health of civic discourse, or the health of the kids who are here currently; either by birth, by choice, or some other heartbreaking circumstance completely out of their control. Packing the Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues? Something that will have seriously bad ramifications for decades? Looks like that’s in the works.

Arriving at this point, we’ve learned it doesn’t matter if you brag about sexual assault, brag about not paying your taxes, or brag about the size of your penis. (But oh my god in heaven sweet lord Jesus Christ our lord and savior, those emails!)

You can still become president if you work the right formula; full-on victimization mixed with a few dashes of grievance, an undercurrent of hostility, and a side of blind patriotism set against a backdrop of whiteness. If you do that, you can do damn near anything. Provided you started out your life with a bunch of money and operated from a position of untouchable power.

In the past, we’ve told ourselves that this is the land of opportunity. That we are exceptional. That we are the greatest nation in the history of the planet. In America, we’ve told ourselves we’re Number One, the shining city on the hill, and the beacon of hope in an otherwise perilous world. We stand for liberty, freedom, and blah, blah, blah, blah.

Has it always been bullshit and now the top has just been blown off the fairy tale?

We’ve told ourselves that we look out for each other. That we can always be counted on. That we will always, eventually, do the right thing, even though it may take a little longer than we’d hoped. But we get there, we deliver, and everyone is better for it.

But on the whole, do we really do any of that? On a micro level, sure. We have been known to scoop the walks of an elderly neighbor after a heavy snow, volunteer at a homeless shelter to serve food to those in need, and donate $50 to a friend’s GoFundMe page who needs help with medical expenses. Please note: GoFundMe is not a substitute for a health care system. Repeat: GOFUNDME IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR A HEALTH CARE SYSTEM.

On the macro level, where more and more of our big challenges must take place, do we deliver on any of that we are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper stuff?

Strike up a conversation with an average American. At first, this individual is into the idea of a national health care service that would ensure health care as a right for him and his family. But as soon as he realizes his neighbor across the street who he hasn’t talked to in years would get that as well, then not so much. Instead, he can’t stand the thought of sharing such a service. He calls it socialism, a handout, a free ride, government tyranny, a threat to liberty, etc.

And that’s where we’re at.

We’ve also told ourselves that we do not rip families apart, but again, when it comes down to it, we most certainly do.

If we’re going to behave this way—keep out immigrants, make it hard for people vote, make it easier for businesses to pollute, and generally give all the breaks to very rich people who are already doing extraordinarily well—what is the point of all this? This American experiment in freedom and self-determination, this “American Dream.”

We certainly can’t keep saying that in America it doesn’t matter who you are or where you live and anything is possible. Because we don’t mean it. Not at all.

If we’re not going to go all in on welcoming everyone, then we need to come clean on this nonsense picture we’ve been painting of ourselves over the last fifty years.

The greatest self-inflicted trick ever played on a society has been lifting up the words with liberty and justice for all in the pledge of allegiance for a country whose default emotion is fear of “the other.”

Maybe things get better once the current government of leaders are voted out. But then again, maybe the current government is a symptom of the illness that’s been here all along. Maybe the upcoming elections will be worse and the slide into the exact opposite of exceptional will really start to take hold. And everyone will then know that it’s irreversible.

This too shall pass? Maybe, or maybe it won’t.

It’s possible we’ve focused too much on the now anyway. We didn’t plan for the future. We didn’t save, we didn’t innovate, we didn’t build for the long haul.

It’s impossible for our institutions to do what’s required to invest in people and planet when there’s just so much money to be made now on Wall Street. And we as individuals, who have been born and bred to look out for our own selves first and foremost so we can get ours before someone else does, we no longer look out into the country and see a community. A place we’re building together, for everyone and for whatever comes next, by upholding our ideals of liberty and justice for all.

Nah, instead we look out into the country and see plots of land to put fences around.

Are we really going to let those fences grow into a wall?