On bumper stickers and t-shirts, the slogan “Proud to be an American” appears. This is a sentiment shared by many and voiced by some in diverse venues.
When people display, say or write “Proud to be an American”, one may ask why? Even if one asks this only of oneself.
Does pride arise from the payment of huge bonuses to Wall Street executives after they drove their firms into the ground and our economy over a cliff? Perhaps, it arises from the impunity with which oil companies demand the right to resume offshore drilling and sternly warn that moratoriums are job killers. Another proud moment could be the emergency meeting held by the Republicans in the House of Representatives where they suspended or ignored rules to pass an emergency bill defunding NPR which accounts for an entire one ten-thousandth of a percent of federal spending. Alternatively, the Wisconsin Legislature, breaking state laws and trashing past practice to pass their anti-union legislation that magically became non-fiscal could be a source of pride.
Another proud moment in American governance is the personal intimidation effort launched in WI against Professor William Cronon, a distinguished scholar at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Professor Cronon had the temerity to reveal the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC] you can find them at http://www.alec.org/. This group has been around since 1973. It produces draft bills such as the one that became the 2010 anti-immigration law in Arizona. When Professor Cronon described the ALEC efforts in promoting anti-public sector union efforts in several states, the Republicans demanded to rummage through his email archives under the WI Open Records Law. Professor Cronon’s description of the case can be found here http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/24/open-records-attack-on-academic-freedom/. Pride in the sense of arrogance is precisely the correct term for the Republican efforts.
It would be remiss to ignore the shining efforts of PA Governor Tom Corbett. His budget proposal decimates the state’s higher education institutions. He cuts funding for the 14 colleges comprising the State System of Higher Education by 50% and cuts funding for Penn State by 48%. Mr. Corbett’s budget decreases funding for the University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln University by 50%. Community College funding drops by 10%.
The budget cuts basic education funding by 9.5%, or $550 million, rolling funding back to 2008-09 levels. It eliminates other funding relied upon by school districts, including cuts of $259 million to the Accountability Block Grant, $224 million for charter school reimbursements to local school districts, and $48 million for Educational Assistance. Special education is flat-funded for the third year at just over $1 billion. Teacher professional development shrinks by 2/3, from $21.6 million to $7.3 million.
Governor Corbett did not include any revenue increases in the spending plan, relying instead on deep cuts. While a few areas, most notably public safety and prisons, would see budget increases, most departments would sustain General Fund cuts.
The budget does include a number of tax breaks for businesses, resuming the phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax and adopting federal bonus depreciation rules that reduce revenue by $200 million to $400 million. The budget does not include any tax on natural gas drilling.
The budget will affect environmental protection, agricultural funding, state parks, and economic development, among many other areas. These Keystone State initiatives are more reason many people might declare they are “Proud to be an American.” For me, I will pass. If others wish to protest, go here click here to sign the petition opposing Gov. Tom Corbett's budget cuts.
Perhaps the pride so many proclaim comes from the Attack on Iraq. This began on false pretenses and lurches onward. As of March 22, 2011, 4,441 American Service Members had died [3,504 in combat]. The numbers injured are estimated to exceed 100,000 and officially reported as 32,992. In April 2008, CBS reported that the VA’s head of Mental Health sent an email declaring there “are about 18 suicides per day among America's 25 million veterans." Leaving aside the waste of young American lives in a war that should not have been some might take pride in the nearly 1.5 million Iraqi deaths due to the attack on Iraq [http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq ]. Let us not forget the over 1,500 American deaths in Afghanistan as well. These sterling achievements surely make one’s heart swell with pride.
The “domestic tranquility” situation could be another source of pride. Violent bigotry is a booming phenomenon. As the Southern Poverty Law Center reports –
“The number of active hate groups in the United States topped 1,000 for the first time and the antigovernment “Patriot” movement expanded dramatically for the second straight year as the radical right showed continued explosive growth in 2010.
But the most dramatic growth in the radical right came in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. These conspiracy-minded organizations, which see the federal government as their primary enemy, grew by 61 percent over the previous year. Their numbers increased to 824 groups in 2010, from 512 groups a year earlier.”
Three strands of the radical right – hate groups, nativist extremist groups and Patriot organizations – increased from 1,753 groups in 2009 to 2,145 in 2010, a 22 percent rise. That followed a 2008-09 increase of 40 percent.
Mainstream politicians have promoted many of the ideas and conspiracy theories important to these groups. Last April, for example, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070, the harshest state anti-immigrant law in the country, setting off a flood of proposals for similar laws. State legislators also have offered proposals that would roll back birthright citizenship, bar judges from considering Islamic law in state courtrooms, institute an alternative currency, and even allow a state to disregard federal laws and regulations. The report can be found here http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2011/spring/the-year-in-hate-extremism-2010?ondntsrc=MBC110270HCE&newsletter=newsgen-20110222. It makes a body proud!
Apart from blatantly vicious hate groups, pride may arise from the more genteel efforts of Maine’s Governor Paul LePage who wants to remove a mural from the Maine Department of Labor and rename conference rooms because “the mural and the conference-room names were "not in keeping with the department's pro-business goals." As Robert Reich asks, “Are we still in America?”
If all else fails, perhaps some take pride in the current maldistribution of wealth. “In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.” This disposition of wealth is a stark reversal of the distribution that prevailed through much of the post-World War II era. During this interval of our history, the top 10% took about one-third of the income growth and the other 90% got about two-thirds. As Bob Herbert says, “This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.”
In all of these situations and many similar ones not discussed here, one wonders, what does it mean to assert, “I am proud to be an American”? Do we even know what it means to be an American? Do we understand that pride is described as a deadly sin that goes before a fall? Why has the shallow patriotism of “Proud to Be an American” become a slogan for our times?
It was once rightly said, "Our country — when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right." Carl Schurz said this to counter what he called the cry of false patriotism of, “Our country right or wrong!” He went onto say that our dignity as a people, our free institutions, the peace and welfare of all Americans present and future would depend on our adherence to this more insightful formulation. Senator Schurz rejected prideful exclamations of nationalist zeal. He would not have endorsed the declaration – Proud to be an American. He would have asked why.
Following of Senator Schurz, I am not proud to be an American. For me, being an American is not a matter of pride; it is a point of honor. Because we “dare not forget that we are the heirs of that first revolution”, every American is an heir to the magnificent ideals expressed by the Founders and the Framers. Like so many contemporary descendents of Ivanhoe, the disinherited, let us mount our chargers and depose those who dishonor America with their shameful acts of greed, spite and bigotry. The revolution began by declaring that “all men are created equal”, that governments derive just powers from the consent of the governed, and that governments exist to secure the unalienable rights of human beings. The Republic began with the intention of “forming a more perfect union.” These are not prideful statements; they are hopeful statements. If pride crowds out hope, can we claim to have kept faith with our heritage? Will we bequeath to our children that which was passed on to us?
Now and in the past, America and Americans often fell short of the noble ideals expressed at the start of the American adventure. Whenever, the initial hope curdled and soured into pride, America and Americans, have wandered off the true path. Now, “the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young.” Perhaps, we have entirely lost our way. This is why I see pride as being counterproductive and distinctly harmful.
Pride encourages us to compare ourselves to others and makes us either vain or resentful. Honor engages us and makes us act upon our obligations. Pride promotes posturing and pomposity. Honor fosters dedication and resolve. Let us reject pride and embrace honor.
We must not consider Americanism a cause for pride, but a call to conscience. Honor imposes obligations, but pride induces complacency. If America is to be a country worth dying for, we must spare no effort to ensure it is a country worth living in for all its citizens. We must stand up and speak out to change the policies and practices that divide us against ourselves in a desperate struggle for an ever-dwindling share of diminishing returns. We need to march, demonstrate, sit-in, converse, cajole, convince, engage and enlist all who can and will lend a hand. We must care for the tired, the poor, the tempest tossed, the huddled masses who are no longer coming to our shores but who actually reside in our states and cities. “All of us, from the wealthiest and most powerful of men, to the weakest and hungriest of children, share one precious possession: the name American.” This is not a basis for boasting; it is a bond of caring and a bridge for sharing.
There is much to do and the list grows longer with each passing hour. By whatever peaceful means available to us, we must arouse our compatriots and persuade our elected officials to change the direction of the Republic and put us back on course to one nation, indivisible with liberty, equity, and prosperity for all. We must not allow the misguided turn the last best hope of humankind into an animal farm where all animals are equal, but some more so than others. Let us mend the social fabric and bind up the various wounds of the nation. Let us demonstrate malice toward none and benevolence toward all of our fellow citizens. Let us learn to live together as brothers and sisters rather than perish together as fools.
Rather than being proud of the land in which we live, let us live so the land can be proud of us. Let us express our patriotism by working ceaselessly to put our country right when it is wrong and keep it right when it is right. Where does one start? Here are some suggestions: 1. Common Cause http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4741359, 2. NAACP http://www.naacp.org/content/main/, 3. People for the American Way http://www.pfaw.org/, 4. The Southern Poverty Law Center http://splcenter.org/who-we-are, 5. Americans for Democratic Action http://www.adaction.org/, 6. NARAL http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/about-us/, 7. ACLU http://www.aclu.org/our-work, 8. Democracy for America http://www.democracyforamerica.com/about, 9. Move On http://front.moveon.org/, 10. Bold Progressives http://boldprogressives.org/home. Any and all of these sites provide information and action opportunities to reclaim the American Dream and restore the honor of the Republic. The choice is ours!