Courage is a brand.
Not so long ago, America woke up after kind of a weird night, staggered into the bathroom, and took a look at itself in the mirror. And it sort of freaked out.
It had just elected as its next President a man whose arrival at the doorstep of the highest office in the land has, regardless of your political leanings, created turmoil and generated an unusual amount of fear.
And to me that seems totally at odds with America’s brand.
America’s first (undocumented) immigrants arrived with hopes of creating better lives for themselves and the people they loved. They were no doubt afraid, but they were also courageous and tough. They were ambitious, energetic, innovative and determined. They ultimately became traitors to the regime that tried to rule them from afar, warring with their royal oppressors until they were able to establish a new nation based on an incredibly powerful document that so perfectly begins with the words “We the people…”
Were they perfect? Hell, no.
They committed genocide and theft on a massive scale against America’s original inhabitants. They were ruthless, racist assholes who perpetrated unspeakable cruelties on other human beings to gain economic advantage. And they were con artists, repressive business owners, and shady politicians who worked to corrupt economic and political systems to suit their needs. But over time, America’s better self slowly began to push its nastier self to the side.
It grudgingly came to see the horrendous evil in slavery, reluctantly acknowledged that civil rights, workers rights, and women’s rights are actually basic human rights, and recognized that unchecked greed is a recipe for societal disaster. Some say it truly became part of the world when it sent its young people to oppose totalitarian aggressors by fighting and dying on the beaches of France and remote Pacific islands, then by essentially paying to rebuild the economies and infrastructures of the enemies it had just devastated in war.
Along the way, America embraced education, and its economic and cultural power and global influence grew along with its self-confidence. And right up until about the time it put a human being on the moon, regardless of its ongoing struggle to throw off its evil underbelly of racism and oppression, at least for those who benefitted from its policies and laws, America was pretty much untouchable — a nation on the rise economically, intellectually, culturally, scientifically, militarily and socially.
For hundreds of years — to those lucky enough not to be victims of its darker forces — America essentially represented hope. If England, Ireland, or Italy didn’t hold promise, maybe you headed to America. If New York or Pennsylvania didn’t hold promise, maybe you headed to the American west. If you were lucky enough not to be one of the oppressed / enslaved / disenfranchised, America was where you could be yourself, or reinvent yourself.
I know from family and personal experience that physically leaving a place you call ‘home,’ relocating to a new country, and taking on new educational and business challenges in order to create new opportunities takes guts and determination. But isn’t constantly redesigning yourself part of life?
So here we are, staring down the barrel of 2017, and though the America I’ve known has certainly never been perfect, in my lifetime it’s never seemed afraid of what might lie ahead. But at this point in its history it seems like a fearful nation, and fear, for want of a better phrase, just seems un-American.
I read a recent article in which some American college students were quoted as saying they’d (once again) be sewing Canadian flags onto their backpacks and luggage prior to international travel to avoid a) being identified as American, and b) having to explain exactly WTF is going on in their country. That may be somewhat flattering to Canadians, but for Americans it’s the opposite. And it’s 100% chickenshit.
If it’s your country, own it. If you don’t like it, change it.
For millions of Americans the future just became very, very scary. But sooner or later, if enough of those people turn their fear into resolve, then turn it into action, the future will change. If we all grab ourselves by whatever body parts we feel comfortable grabbing ourselves by and get busy making things better for the people we love, then expand that circle a little, then a little more, when all of our circles overlap we’ll find out that collectively we have more strength than fear. More love than hate.
In my opinion, what’s always made America ‘great’ is not what it has been at any given time, but what it has promised to be in the future.
As a brand, fear sucks. I prefer courage.