Parasitic fear has latched itself to the heart of the United States of America. There was once an idea, or at least the dream of an idea, that American’s could trust one another if for only the sole reason that all of us share a liberated homeland. This mostly unspoken virtue runs through the consciousness of the American Character.
I am an American.
I love America.
You are an American.
I love you.
Are we not, all of us, still brothers and sisters of an American nation? Have the characteristics of division grown so fractured that the fault plane is beyond mending?
Shelby Foote, one my favorite historical novelists and inveterate defender of the misguided idea of Southern Virtue, said, “[the Civil War occurred]…because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise. Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising. Our true genius is for compromise. Our whole government’s founded on it. And, it failed.”
It seems to me that we have become a wholly uncompromising people, completely unable to see ourselves in the faces of our disenfranchised citizens of color, gender, and orientation. We aren’t afraid of the disenfranchised, rather we are afraid of what they represent—an abdication or limiting of the American cultural preferential option for the wealthy, white male born up out of the European aristocratic roots through American history.
Fear has gripped the hearts of white nationalists who see their political and economic influence slowly dwindle from absolute primacy to something more akin, but not equal to, a real equality. So they, like most dominating cultural and economic sections of populace through history, take up the old pinions and symbols which represent the height of their ‘ideal zeitgeist’. Currently they are infected by the fatuous Southern Rights advocacy of the Antebellum period. They cling to the ‘Stars and Bars’ like the Julio Claudian emperors clutched the Roman eagle. They find an identity in this banner because it bolsters their bravery, it tells them the lie that things were once great when the States held a higher authority amongst themselves than that which was given to a Federal authority.
All of this, all of the hatred and the rioting and the raising of unregulated militias is a product of a fear of loss. The notion of no longer having full control over the nation stops their heart. That they might no longer hold full sway over all the principalities of economy, politics, and industry terrifies them from the wealthy capitalist magnate all the way down to the impoverished blue collar tradesman.
Fear of loss is a dragon.
Fear of each other is a poison.
Fear of your neighbor is a cultural desolation.
If the American genius is rooted in compromise, which I believe is still a truth, we must ask ourselves who and what are we willing to compromise? There must be a meeting ground—a place of mutual surrender to one another, for one another. Without such a meeting ground we will find ourselves at the risk, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, of authoring the beginning chapters of an American suicide.
In holding with what is truly American, the established majority of mostly white Evangelical Protestants must cling to the roots of the gospel they so dearly claim to be the capstone of their culture. They must be willing to abdicate a portion of their total influence in order to make a more equal, more perfect union. But the fear of loss halts such a show of virtue and foresight. They believe, erroneously, that they are a ‘wholly superior people’–that what came to them via cultural birthright should remain theirs until the day of entombment. They have been corrupted by greed and malice. For those in power it shall and forever remain true—for the human heart, when it comes to power, too much is never enough. I am glad to pronounce that greed is not an incurable malady and fear not a terminal disease.
Fear is a pestilence for which there is a remedy.
It will be hard for the cynic to read, and even more difficult to believe, that the cure of all American ills is love. A love that understands this—You do not truly love your country if you do not love your countrymen. The growing pains of national maturity require the current cultural majority to understand that a true show of power is not the application of power, but the renunciation of power.
Compromise requires sacrifice and for as long as the majority of white Americans delay their willingness to give a measure of their cultural primacy to persons of color, gender minorities, those in poverty, and immigrants searching for refuge, the greater pain and strife they bring upon the country they love. It is difficult to cope with. It is difficult to believe and more difficult to write—America cannot survive a fractured populous. America cannot long survive any kind of cultural imperialism.
America doesn’t belong to anyone.
America belongs to everyone.
One of my great flaws is that I am a romanticist. I believe that love and sacrifice and hope can not only seize the day, but find total victory. I understand that ‘realists’, with their unbending, sometimes cold, logic will see the sum of this short essay as the ramblings of a person who can’t see the world as it really is, a person incapable of seeing the nuance of how things actually are.
John Steinbeck once wrote, “Sometimes I think you realists are some of the most sentimental people in the world.” I am openly appealing to your sentiment. I am hoping that you will see how much greater we can be, how much higher we can reach, how much more noble we can be; and Americans can be so very noble.
Cast off the chains of fear and you’ll find a more complete experience of American freedom. Remember what it means to trust your neighbor. Decide today that you can give more because you have more. See your own face in the face of the Americans who demand the same measure of the American prosperity that you have, for centuries, been taught to be yours and yours alone.
The American Experiment can only succeed if we appeal to the better angels of our nature, if we as a people, choose to surrender one to another. Only a unified United States of America can persist and unity can only be achieved when all active participants find themselves on equal ground gained in heartfelt compromise.