Why America Is Still Awesome
Every Saturday we let some of our favorite writers fill in for us. Today, a man by the name of John Devore gives America a pep-talk. Mr. Devore has written and edited for Maxim and other magazines (which are like the internet, but on paper and with skinnier pornography).
First things first: Don't freak out about the title. I know things look bleak. You're stocking up on shotgun shells and Dinty Moore Beef Stew, dreading the day you inevitably have to pitchfork-fight a hobo over the last piece of firewood in the Hooverville. Hell, you might even be thinking that Kanye West was wrong for once: maybe "The Good Life" isn't all that. Maybe the mass pursuit of diamond-spackled grills, champagne Jacuzzis and McMansions the size of Vatican City was not actually the happiness we totally had the right to pursue.
Kanye West's on-second-thought-unnecessary house.
This past year, we learned that karma is a bitch. That Wall Street is run by Hamburglars. The government is basically too many pigs at too small a trough. That we're broke, at war(s) and, instead of dealing with it, we've chosen to watch celebrities dance, dance, dance for the bloodthirsty hordes. We torture to make ourselves feel safer, cheat each other to make ourselves richer and have generally behaved like raging assholes.
I get all that, and still I say with total and utter conviction: America is awesome. And we're awesome because we are batshit, out of our minds crazy. The French are intellectuals, the Russians are brooders and the Chinese are hard workers. Americans are crazy. Our optimism, ambition, and self-interest verges on the manic.
Think about it - we're a country of over 300 million people, and each of us is told, and honestly, earnestly believes that we're special. That we have a right to pursue happiness. There's no guarantee that happiness will ever happen. We're just cleared to chase, lunge and claw after that happiness, like an eternal dangling carrot. Our dreams matter. This is pounded into us. It is part of our collective DNA. Everyone is special. We believe it, even if it isn't true.
When we succeed, we succeed big (see: the Empire State Building, Moon landing, cheese-stuffed pizza crust). When we fail, we fail big (see: the Great Depression, Slavery, Spider-man 3). We lurch and strive and aspire to greatness. Other countries fear us (not just because we have over 7,000 tactical nukes, though how utterly crazy is that?). They fear us, mainly, because we are an experiment, and experiments can explode. Or they can go on a rampage, like Frankenstein's monster.
These two things are also America.
Frankenstien might actually be the closest cultural predecessor. America isn't a democracy where majority rules. We're an anti-tyranny-ocracy. We're terrified of tyranny, no matter what form it takes: the government, the free market, your neighbors. The mob can never fully be trusted. Don't tread on me. Get off my lawn. The forefathers had total faith in two things: "freedom" and "people are jerks." They knew that power corrupts, and so they created a system where power is like a bacon-grease slathered football: slippery.
Checks and balances, filibusters and the rule of law. Eventually, the person who's got the power will drop it. And then there's a madcap, sometimes vicious scramble. Then someone has the football again. Repeat.
I like to think of myself as a Patriot. I know that's kind of cheesy, but I've OD'd on snark recently. Sorry internet, but pure, uncut ironic disaffection has become an inadequate coping mechanism. I am not a bible-thumping, jingoistic redneck with the stars and stripes tattooed over generous man boobs. Nor am I an effete, pseudo-intellectual hipster with smooth, manicured hands who blames America for inventing cancer, earthquakes and human vices. But I am a Patriot, because this country gives me the right to be off my rocker.
Let me define my Patriotism: I think America is awesome the way the Whos in Whoville think Christmas is awesome. A Grinch can steal all the accouterments of patrio-eroticism --the flag, the eagle, the Statue of Liberty. And like the Whos, who didn't require gifts or a tree to celebrate Christmas, I will happily salute the idea that defines "America."
And this is America, too.
And that idea is basically that I get to say this: I am John DeVore and you are not. I am a right wing pinko, a militant centrist, a control freak anarchist. I believe in gun rights and gay rights. I want gays to experience the joys of divorce, and I want them to be well armed. I am a Texan, which means I'm the American equivalent of a Klingon. But I live in Queens, New York, one of the most ethnically diverse places on Earth. My local dive bar is the United Nations. I'm a half-Mexican/half-redneck, who was raised both a Catholic and a Baptist. How many countries does that happen in? It happens here like ... all the time. I'm not even the weirdest multicultural mutt out there - we elected one for president.
You know he's part-Skrull, too? Weird, right?
I have dreams, and I work my ass off stumbling in the general direction of those dreams. And all I ask is this: If I tell you to get off my lawn, get off my lawn. If I don't tell you to get off my lawn, come on in! Let's drink beer and play Xbox. I am one of approximately 301,139,947 other people who all think they are special. Are we all really special? Who knows. Probably not. It's a savage world and life is cheap. But we think we are. That's what counts.
I'm not excusing our excesses and mistakes. Actions have consequences, and even America is not immune to that fundamental fact of nature. We all go down together. But we're still awesome, not down for the count. It is a dark time for the rebel alliance. But our adaptability and individuality will succeed. Each of us will succeed, alone and together. We can't count on politicians because, let's face it, they are glorified sanitation workers. Count, instead, on the Awesomeness of America: our pursuit will not be deterred or delayed. Don't call it a comeback.
Winston Churchill once wrote "Always count on America to do the right thing, after they've exhausted every other option." Well we've done everything except the right thing for a nice long stretch of time and we're, if nothing else, exhausted. Looks like we're well on our way ladies and gents!