The American Way [?]

Although Thanksgiving is not strictly an American holiday (some 15 other nations celebrate a “gratitude” tradition in one way or another), still, the date and circumstances of the Pilgrims’ first observation are, of course, unique to our nation.  It is indeed fitting that we take a day to show appreciation for family and friends, along with all that we have.  That is, at least for those of us who are fortunate enough to have family, friends, food, and roofs over our heads. 

And we do very often fail to take into account that we in the United States are not alone.  Our default mode seems to be to assume that we are exceptional in all ways, nothing like the rest of the world, especially the global South and East.  We hold ourselves up as the icon of the best of the best, and seem to think that all other countries are somehow lesser.  We say we are a bastion of democracy and human rights, discounting all other countries that are governed via representation, in whichever form that takes.  We say this despite the quite visible evidence to the contrary, including the current Republican party and its attempts to hobble the voting process, along with daily tragedies like those in Kenosha, Atlanta, Ferguson, Houston, and elsewhere across the country. 

In keeping with this concept of “bastion-ness,” increasingly over the last 18 months, as the U.S. focus on the Middle East has faded, various entities at the top of our food chain have begun to rattle the sabers about the threat of China.  After all, not only are they Commies, they spurn human rights, and on top of that, they’re planning to take over the world.  We know they are; it’s obvious.  They’re going to sink our economy, they’re going to outdo us in science, they’re ready to launch widespread cyberattacks, and they’re ramping up military capacities.  We’re not the United States if we don’t have dominance in every sphere, so now is the time to rev up the panic machine.

Meanwhile, a good percentage of the country would take a minute to find China on a map, and a much smaller fraction knows anything of China’s history or culture.  But no worries, ’cause we’re ’Merrikans, the de facto best of all sovereign states, so we don’t need to know about anyone else.  How could any other people do anything better than we do?

Snark aside, this xenophobia is growing, and it’s dangerous.  Remember “Freedom fries”?  A segment of the GOP coined the term because France wouldn’t back the U.S. in its invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Therefore, France bad, by definition.  In his Counterpunch article on November 24th, “Vigilantes on Parade:  Rightwing Extremism and the Threat of National Implosion,” Anthony DiMaggio cites a recent poll by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) which found that 79% of Republicans feel that, “the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence.”  What, exactly, does that mean?  What IS the “American way of life?”  Is it a derivation of, or the progenitor of, the original Superman motto, “truth, justice, and the American way?”  The motto was first heard during the Superman radio serial, but was changed to “a better tomorrow,” for comic books.  Now, we’re hearing the jingoistic version brought back. 

Does, “the American way,” refer to the American dream, wherein a person [a male, in most conceptions] can start with nothing and build a livelihood while acquiring a family and a house with a picket fence, all accompanied by some sort of lifelong financial stability?  If that’s the case, a LOT of citizens have never experienced the American way.  The bulk of those who did achieve it did so in a brief, post-World War II period, and then it largely vanished from the landscape. 

If it means access to affordable healthcare, plenty of food, physical security for families and their children, again, many tens of thousands of people don’t know what that is on a daily basis.

If it means exceptionalism, white privilege, male privilege, vigilantism, gerrymandering, rule by the right-wing minority, pervasive violence, and the 10% living off the labor of the 90%, well, then, bingo!  Yeah, we know what that is. Even more than the American-way meme, though, the phrase from the poll, “…protected from foreign influence,” really stuck with me.  I’d guess that in the context of the survey question, it means that no other country should be able to tell the U.S. what to do, in any scenario.  But in a broader. cultural sense, it’s ludicrous.  If we as a society followed through with “protection” from “foreign influence,” we’d be living the lives of the First Nations.  Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, by the way, in terms of environmental impact, at the very least.  But since before Plymouth Rock, the area of land that would become the United States has been saturated by nothing except foreign influence.  Our Constitution owes a debt to English common law and the Magna Carta, as does our bicameral legislature.  The first settlers in the Northeast brought their British, Scottish, Irish, and German customs with them; those in the South brought Spanish and French traditions, along with the African culture of slaves; the Great Lakes region was once dominated by Scandinavian ways, and so on.  Even more so in the present day do we feel influences from around the world in every part of the country, every day.  Countless ethnic restaurant chains are only one small example.  Many of our sports are adaptations of games from elsewhere.  Animals and plants (horses, as just one instance) have been brought from other regions of the world.  We’ve borrowed myriad scientific ideas and inventions from other nations.  Our most prevalent religious beliefs stem from around the globe.  In short, we have taken something from every ethnic group that has come to this country, and incorporated all of it into our society.  In a very real sense, there’s no such thing as pure, unadulterated “American” anything.  Except maybe our worship of firearms, but that’s nothing to brag about.

13 thoughts on “The American Way [?]

  1. when my bohacek grandfather arrived in the US from prague, along w/ a multitude of other eastern europeans in the late 1800’s~early 1900’s, he so desperately yearned to ‘fit in’ that when my mother and her sibs were birthed, he was adamantine they too ‘fit in’. they were proscribed from learning about bohemian culture or speaking their own language. this dynamic was the norm for immigrants during that era… just as the inuit and other ‘first nations’ children of canada, in punitive residence [aka ‘torture’] schools, were proscribed from speaking their own languages and dialects. only english and french were allowed. it is gratifying that finally their native languages are being taught, even required, in many public schools, particularly across arctic and sub-arctic canada. in urban public schools of canada, students are being encouraged to study chinese in order to better position themselves for future economic opportunities in asian markets and international political structures. it is a sanguine sign, no?

    it is w/ regret that i recall most of us high school students in the mid-1950s bought into the brain-washing balderdash of the US’ anti-communist zeitgeist, promulgated by the obstreperous megaphone of joe mccarthy and his demonic crwth. this regnant hate-mongering was exacerbated by the USSR’s sputnik launch in 1957, which was the 1st earth-orbiting artificial satellite successfully launched. we were exhorted to work more diligently, study more sedulously, add more math and science to our classes, so that we could ‘catch up’ to the soviets who were determined to invade us, thwart us, and purloin our ‘god-given’ exceptionalism. the repugs and others seem not have grown up and moved away from such fear-mongering and nescient nonsense. i repine that the majority has yet to learn that cooperation is more constructive and efficacious than competition.

    thank you for the catalyzing article, denise; you help revivify your readers’ flagging notochords.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My husband Rick’s grandmother also spoke about the “shame” that she felt as a first-grader, because of her foreign (i.e., Polish) accent in an American school, post-WWI. It was all about assimilation then. I think that, in the last 50 years or so, people are starting to be proud of their heritages, and it’s about time.

      I wouldn’t say that the Rethugs haven’t grown up since the McCarthy era, but rather, have simply continued their divisive, fear-mongering ways, with China as the new target. SS, DD.

      Excellent point about cooperation. With it, we can work miracles. Without it, we’re toast.


      1. of course, it depends on one’s definition of being a grownup; one definition of mine is commensurate w/ reaching a sufficient stage in adulthood that one thinks for herself, makes her own decisions about what constitutes rectitude, what constitutes turpitude, and that s/he takes responsibility for her/his own actions, particularly if they are detrimental to others… politics, despoliation of others’ resources, mindless follow-the-leader of thuggery and inclusivity be damned. my hope is that one day the repugnant repugs will reach adulthood, or become either an insignificant minority or a fringe group.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahhh….your definition of adulthood is more or less my definition of being a moral person.

    Years ago I read that one psychologist defined adulthood in males as devoting most of one’s efforts toward community and family, instead of a job, climbing the ladder, and acquiring toys. By this definition, the psychologist (a man, btw) estimated that perhaps only 60% of American men had achieved adulthood by age 60. I personally think that estimate is too high!


    1. WAY TOO HIGH! it is likely closer to 90%. am dubious any of our species is a genuinely ‘moral person’ at every nexus in his/her life; it is not in our genotype. some of us try more conscientiously or consistently than others, but alas, we are all culpable of intermittent debauchments.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. perhaps you have experienced the puerility of youth, as so many of us have in our beleaguered pasts: the most popular teens, male and femme, were those who were jocks, attractive, well-endowed, and fashion-conscious. they organized inclusive clickity-clack-cleex, became leaders of those ‘cleex’, excluded everyone who was not attractive, well-endowed, fashionable and bumptious jock-braggarts. the rest were outliers and disdained, particularly nerds and female jocks. i have had the misfortune of knowing many of these operose, disdainful, dismissive, de-haut-en-bas ‘enfants terribles’ in their adult years, most of whom are entrenched repugs and intransigent trumpites. i humbly suggest they never moved beyond their haughty, myopic lives as teenagers.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree completely with your conclusion, but I can’t say I had much experience with school cliques. It could be that I was such an extreme outlier that I was oblivious. I took all the college-prep classes I could in high school, and the people I associated with (just in class; I had no friends outside school) were of the same mindset. Although I wasn’t popular in any way, shape, or form, my advanced-placement classmates were all very friendly, and THEY were the popular ones. As I set the school record for course credits, I guess I really didn’t have a clue about anything else. And I never kept up with anyone after I graduated.


  4. hmmm, it would appear the 1950s were more draconian, rigid, conservative, and conformist than the ’60s and ’70s, particularly among high school and college kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Somehow, I don’t think so. Our nieces complained of very strict, exclusive cliques even in junior high, which would have been about 14 years ago for the elder of them.

      I’m sure it was the same situation at my school, and I just never paid any attention. I was so painfully shy, the popular girls were in another universe, and that was just the way of the world. It has never really been my goal to be part of the “in” crowd.


      1. being a loner for us outliers, iconoclasts, and mavericks, denise, is a salubrious ‘modus vivendi’ to adopt; it is perhaps even a matter of survival.

        thank you for your humble and arresting input, utejack, w/out which denise’s stimulating site would have transmogrified into a personal gaberlunzie-fest between 2 quidnuncs.

        your link to adayfi’s debilitations has tripped the wires to my heart and transported them straight to my trembling bowels. some of the torture techniques the US and its complicit allies have used inside those black-site hells include: setting prisoners’ pubic and head hair on fire w/ kerosene; chopping off their genitals after twisting them w/ pliers; gouging out their eyeballs; ripping out their toenails, fingernails, and teeth, one-by-one; slicing off their ears and noses; crushing nearly every bone in their bodies, one bone at a time; skinning them alive, one slice at a time… the list ends at the limits of creative depravities that our species is capable of devising. preveniently, i suspect the heinous perpetrators of these torture techniques abused animals when they were young… even invertebrates, gleefully yanking off their wings, legs, antennae, and proboscises. our amygdala and reptilian complexes need rewiring or should be excised altogether..


  5. It’s always an interesting passage of time, peeping into the conversations, wading through the ideas, tryin my best to comprehend, the personal perspectives both of you shine onto these dark days of declination. Today I let in some of that despicable conduct. Normally I wouldn’t expose myself to such horrific tales; they tilt the scales of hope and make the future appear so much more uncertain. Just knowing that leadership can concoct such unimaginable policies makes me wonder if there’s really anything exceptional about “the american way”!
    I read this after reading your post today Denise….
    It’s an interview about a book from a former Guantánamo detainee
    Mansoor Adayfi….

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: