… Ali signed up as an interpreter for the Americans, whose official rhetoric claimed they were promoting classical liberal values in Iraq, establishing a vision realized on their own shores but belonging to all mankind — democracy, freedom and equality. At least that was the theory. And in theory, we could “go forward with complete confidence,” as President George W. Bush proclaimed, “because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.” In theory, that longing would lead Iraqis to greet American troops as liberators and make the shouted words “We’re Americans!” capable of calming a firefight in a hostile neighborhood.
In practice, and in American history, more has been required. America may be “a nation of immigrants,” where people of different nations and faiths forge a common identity. But that common identity has relied on far more than the notion of all people hungering for freedom in dark places. For citizens to labor and sacrifice on a nation’s behalf, they must feel what Edward Wilmot Blyden called “the poetry of politics,” that sense of inclusion in a broader community with its own distinctive character and historical consciousness.
The aspirations still exist:
I’m a pessimist; I’m sometimes surprised but rarely disappointed that way, and I deeply understand the instinct to say fuck it and eat chips and watch TV. Who doesn’t want to watch TV? Go live in the woods, where no one will bother you. Drop out, tune out, never talk about anything that matters ever again. Just nope out of our entire endealment, especially now, when it’s getting dark, and obligations start pressing in. Why can’t we just avoid everything, forever?
Well, because we fucking can’t, because there are people counting on us. This time of year I re-read Trinity: the rising will start when one man alone has had enough. I re-read Winter’s Tale: every time the world is being destroyed it’s beginning again and they had no intention of being left out. How dare you be tired, if you’re warm and safe and comfortable, for longer than a night? Rest by the fire, put your coat back on, and keep fighting.
I started posting those “not everything sucks” posts not to just show you cute animals or feel-good stories but to say: People are good and brave, and we fail the good and brave with our glib nihilism and fashion-show exhaustion.
How dare we say nothing has changed since Sandy Hook when scores of volunteers are out at every corner every night signing people up to vote for gun safety laws at every level including the federal?
How dare we snicker “lol low Q rating” at career civil servants testifying to the president’s crimes in the face of death threats to themselves and their families?
How dare we shrug “whatevs” at the people our national myths seduced, as if they’re the ones to blame for believing what we told them? As if they’re the suckers, and we don’t need to think about what that makes us.
How dare we tell anyone who’s angry about any of this to take it easy in the name of some false civility, as if pacifying someone’s book club meeting is the ultimate goal? How dare we make these things abstractions, when they’re flesh and blood and in front of us every day?
If our national myths rely on aspirations of others then we have a goddamn obligation to make sure this place isn’t worse than the places others come from. We have a country people want to belong to and if there’s one thing about the past 3 years I will never understand it’s making that into a bad thing and telling people it’s a lie.
It’s so much harder to kill hope than it is to make yourself worthy of it. Look at that, up there. Look at everything they knew, everything we’ve done, and still they looked to us. It’s harder to destroy that idea than it is to make it real.