American Flag, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1977
One of the interesting things about living outside of America for the past 10 years has been considering my national and cultural identity. To think about what America and being an American means to me (sounds like an Junior High essay topic), gauging people’s response to me when they find out I’m American (although people usually think I’m Canadian – a colleague in Edinburgh used to introduce me as ‘Melinda, she’s American, but she’s not brash’), sometimes squirming with embarrassment or feeling outrage over America’s international exploits (but I can become tetchy if someone else is too critical).
I was at an anti-war rally in Scotland in 2002 and someone held a sign that pretty much summed it up for me: ‘Proud to be American, but ashamed of my President and my country’s foreign policy’.
I can understand why many things about the US can piss many people off, both non-Americans and Americans. At the same time I know what is great about my country and I’m grateful for many of my uniquely American traits – mainly my optimism and pioneer spirit.
I think that the founding ideals of America’s forefathers and foremothers and the principles of democracy are incredible and that America still has very deep unhealed wounds over slavery and the Native American holocaust. I read a good book several years ago, The American Soul (2002) by Jacob Needleman which addresses these issues and contemplates the deep spiritual meaning of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’.
Also harkening back to the roots of democracy and the ideals of America’s founders is the latest book by writer Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (2007). Ms Wolf has written an urgent wake-up call which details the systematic disempowerment of Congress and threats to the US Constitution that have been happening over the past 6 years and lays out her case for saving American democracy. I didn’t know about a lot of the things she details in her book and some of them are down-right chilling.
I haven’t read this book yet, but found an interview of Ms. Wolf talking about The End of America with interviewer Mark Molaro. It gives a good overview of the book and she is a great speaker. Towards the end of the interview she gives an interesting feminist critique of gender differences re: Congress’s response to George Bush.
She has also written an article for the Guardian that puts forth her argument that the Bush administration has been laying the groundwork which could close down America’s open society.
Food for thought and it’s not hot dogs and apple pie.