I was talking with an old friend of mine recently, someone I thought I knew well. She’s a dyed in the wool Liberal, works on the Hill, the whole package. We were talking about recent events and how things are going and she started talking about the greatness of this country and how important that was to her. I was honestly surprised by her outlook, her being a Liberal and all, so I asked her more pointedly — if cheering for the good old U.S. of A. was somehow a conflict for her at all – and again she surprised me.
“This is my country and of course I want it to be greater than any other,” she replied.
In my mind this patriotic refrain has always implied that someone else was worse off, and therefore not a comforting thought to Liberals who see all the people in the world as deserving of the same opportunities, education, and material goods we have here.
Then it got really interesting. When I pressed her about why this country was great I got a list of reasons that all centered on the wealth and economic opportunity that reveal how much better off people are here – materially. It got me to thinking, so I started having this same conversation with others I knew; black, white, Asian, Mexican, men, women, you name it, I talked to all of them about it.
And it was just more and more of the same. Not a single person mentioned the Bill of Rights, our Constitution, the ability to freely speak, write, and assemble, nothing. Yes, the U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world and economic opportunity has always been a hallmark of our nation, but it isn’t the important thing. It’s not why this country is special. At the moment, in fact, our wealth and our desire to hold onto it, is actually working against those values that I think actually did make this country great.
Free speech and a free press aren’t free of charge. You have to do a lot of work, lose some blood, to make it possible for people to say unpopular things, assemble, and then attack the status quo – to inspire change. The government cannot spy on its own people, its own reporters, its own institutions, its own corporations and then expect those same people and entities to risk it all to protest, fight, evolve, and change the national consciousness.
The last two that tried, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, found that out. Manning got 35 years at Leavenworth and Snowden is hiding in Russia. What a nightmare. The government I love, the country I love, the principles I care about and have treasured all my life, seem to mean nothing today. What’s worse, the American people themselves apparently have lost sight of what made this country great.
Where is the outrage? I heard President Obama explain these NSA spying programs the other day and I actually sat down and cried. He really doesn’t get it. He thinks stopping a guy from blowing up a bomb here or there is worth attacking the Constitution of this great land.
We can live without being the wealthiest county in the world.
We can live without a Navy that controls all 7 oceans. We can live without the most potent Army in the world, and I know this because we have before. We can live without all this hegemony nonsense and still be the greatest country in the world because this is a place where the rules are different.
Where the people share power with the government.
Where the government must respect the civil rights, the privacy rights and the property rights of its citizens. Where the people have a Sovereign Constitution that they have sacrificed much to create, fight over, and hold onto it. That, and only that — is the truly exceptional thing about this country and the people that live here.
At least that’s why it used to be exceptional.