What makes an American? This question was sparked by conversations with my father, one of the wisest men, and fiercest American Patriots that I know. Can we all answer the question of what it means to be an American with any sort of conviction, especially in today’s uncertain and scary times? If we could, we wouldn’t be where we currently are as a nation.
There are no uniquely American principles being respected. Nothing is sacred right now. Up is down. Black is white. Good is evil and evil is good. By some, rioting is seen as a legitimate form of protest. Peaceful protest is deemed unpatriotic and ridiculed by others. Police are hated. There is no respect by our elected political officials for the offices which they currently hold. They are only there to gain power and keep it as long as they can. Old Glory is burned and desecrated, and other symbols of our history, both good and bad, are being removed because they offend people in some way. People who should see each other as fellow Americans are at each other’s throats, ready to tear each other apart. Where are our unifying principles of what it means to be an American in the midst of all this chaos? I cannot see them.
As simple-minded as this view may sound, I think we start becoming Americans by learning to respect each others’ beliefs and opinions. If that happened, we would be well on our way to becoming a peaceful country, and ascending back to our rightful place in the world. In an ideal America, people could agree to disagree, talk out their differences respectfully, and our politicians would respect their offices and their colleagues on opposite sides of the aisle.
We would also be the country that serves as the standard for every other. As the beacon of hope, justice and freedom to the rest of the world. As the nation that leads our allies in the fight for good, and strikes the fear of God into the hearts of all the evil people who would harm those who love peace and justice.
This next characteristic that I believe makes us American, gets swallowed up in the relentless media cycle: Peoples’ ability to think critically WITHOUT being spoon fed all the bullshit spewed by the big media networks. Back in the early days, when our country was a young nation, we didn’t have people in very high places lobbying for airtime on Fox or CNN. Politics wasn’t flooded with dirty money. We weren’t fed stereotypical Democrat or Republican talking points on an hourly basis. We weren’t indoctrinated so we’d pick one side and demonize the other. There were only local newspapers that reported the goings on in different cities. People saw the truth (or as close as they could get to it), and acted accordingly. They thought for themselves.
Personal responsibility also seems to have been forgotten. People seem to want to blame anyone but themselves for failure. Republicans blame Democrats and vice versa. Politicians in Washington blame each other for the sad state this country is in…without doing a damn thing to work together and fix it! On a personal level, people blame a broken system for their state in life. Blacks blame white people and vice versa. Nobody seems to want to sit down, look at themselves and say, “You know what? I cannot control everything, but maybe my misfortune, or lack of understanding of others’ situation isn’t all on other people. Maybe I play a part in the predicament. How can I better myself to get out of it, and help others out of it?”
There’s a reason people call achieving success in this country “The American Dream.” Anyone can achieve success on their own merit and work ethic if they work hard enough, and make the right choices. I firmly believe that. America is also one of the only countries in the world where we are encouraged to think big, and choose our desired path in life. No one else chooses our path in life but us. People seem to also forget the simple phrase “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Interpret this how you will. But how I see it is, in America, you are able to live the life you want, with all the freedoms and security that this country provides, and can make it big if you put the work in.
In the cases where a truly unjust system DOES hold people back from living the lives that they want, either from racism or other discrimination, guess what? The First Amendment is in place to help citizens change the system. The First Amendment guarantees four fundamentally American rights: the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of the press, the right to petition one’s government for grievances, and the right to assembly (i.e. peaceful protest). I remember something that happened about a decade ago when I was out to eat with my parents and sister at Los Arcos, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Upper Sandusky, Ohio (it’s worth a try if you’re ever in the area. The people are really friendly, the service is top notch, and the food and margaritas are absolutely fantastic!).
As we were eating our meal, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lone protester walking along down the middle of the road. He was carrying a sign that said, “We live in a fascist country. Prove me wrong.” Now, I do not know what that man was protesting or picketing about, but I had to chuckle to myself. The fact that he was able to carry a sign like that in public that was critical of our country is protected by his First Amendment rights. If the United States of America truly WAS a fascist country, he would be reported, arrested, or in the worst case scenario, shot and killed for his beliefs. But because America is built the way she is thanks to our Founding Fathers, he has the freedom to air his grievances without fear of repercussion or bodily harm as long as he’s within the law.
I think we’re all incredibly spoiled here in the States. We don’t realize how much we can do or say, and not have to worry about our own safety. Two authoritarian governments that don’t allow their citizens to speak out come to my mind: China and North Korea. I know if I were North Korean instead of American, there’s a pretty good chance I would either be dead, or rotting away in some dark jail cell, as I have been very critical of the US Government and leadership for many years. But because of my rights as an American, I can say pretty much anything I want as long as I am within the law, and not willfully inciting panic. America affords me that.
In certain, extreme cases where the government becomes tyrannical, and strips away our rights as American citizens, we are also afforded the right, and even encouraged to overthrow our government by force, and install a new system of government that works better for the good of all people. I remember hearing this line from the Declaration of Independence years ago in the movie National Treasure, but it still always gives me chills:
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
Thankfully, this right has only been used twice: By the Patriots during the American Revolution, and by the South during the Civil War. In both of those cases, a sizable number of people thought the current government in power was overstepping their bounds, and they rose up in armed opposition. How many other countries allow for something like that to happen? Not many. Most countries wouldn’t allow, or openly encourage armed conflict to set the government straight if it gets to the point where it becomes truly evil and tyrannical.
Lastly, I believe we are truly Americans when we honor the good history of those who have built this nation regardless of what we think of them. I also believe we are truly Americans when we are students of history, and recognize mistakes, learn from them, and do our absolute best to not repeat those mistakes. This is where I have a problem with people removing things like Confederate flags and statues. Do I support what the Confederacy stood for? Absolutely not. I had ancestors who actively fought against the South during the Civil War. My great-great-great Grandfather Jacob “Burr” Wickiser was a soldier in the 45th Ohio Infantry, and I am grateful for his service and for him. But I believe we need to leave Confederate statues and flags alone to actively remind us of what not to do. Or we risk making the same mistake twice.
Let me explain my reasoning with another personal anecdote: When I was probably 11 or 12 years old, I had a Red Ryder BB Gun. It was loaded, but not cocked or ready to fire. So I played with it in the house without pulling the trigger, acting like I was shooting bad guys. Eventually, I sat down on my bed and was examining the gun’s stock for nicks or rough spots. I wasn’t thinking, and pulled the lever that cocks the gun to check underneath the stock, unknowingly cocking the gun. As I sat back against the wall, my finger got a little too close to the trigger and BANG! A small, silver BB was lodged in the ceiling! Boy, my old man chewed me a new ass that day! And anytime I asked him to take that BB down, he was like, “Nope. We’re gonna leave it up there forever. So you remember what kind of stupid decision you made, and never do it again.”
I view leaving Confederate statues and flags alone the same way. The Confederacy, and all that came with it, was a shameful mistake in our history. And if our country ever gets to such a point like it was back in 1861, hopefully the statues and flags serve as a warning to avoid another civil war by not making stupid mistakes, by resolving our differences, and learning to treat each other with respect. If we whitewash bad history to avoid offending people, we risk forgetting what got us to that point in the first place.
Hopefully this article has shed some light on what it means to truly be an American. I know it’s not easy to find commonalities that bring us all together in divided times like these, but I believe they are still there. I believe these commonalities always have been there. They’re just harder to see. I hope one day, more people recognize that there are more things that bring us together than divide us. America is sick right now. Lady Liberty has been hurting for years. She’s suffering greatly, and at a tipping point. But if we recognize and hold our commonalities as sacred, America will eventually get up off her knees. She’ll be bolstered by us, her people, and she’ll lead the world into a bright future. I can only hope I live to see that day! God bless you all, and God bless America! 🙂