This morning, I woke up to my alarm going off, I got out of bed, snagged some coffee and drove in my car to my college classes. I didn't make it to lunch before I saw some inane blog post being shared around social media by the Trump crowd. As of this moment, it has over ten thousand shares. This peek into the conservative world view is eye opening, if highly discouraging and slightly outrageous in its assumptions and ignorance.
Now, let me be honest, it was the salute in the image that got me first. Usually these types of posts are dripping in self righteous patriotism and if they’re going to walk that walk, they may as well source an image of a proper salute. Or maybe this is just the crotchety old veteran inside me who did one too many pushup years ago to let a slack salute slide even when used for cheap jingoistic purposes.
The author, Bonnie Smith, an ambulance dispatcher from Indiana, insists that we, as Americans, are spoiled rotten. That our privilege is what allows us to complain as we do and that we simply don’t recognize how lucky, how blessed we are to live our days under the stars and stripes. Now, it is by no means a problem to count your blessings, to be grateful. In fact I’d consider the latter especially to be essential to living a healthy and happy life. The author didn’t just insist we practice gratitude however, she instead spent her time sneering at and generalizing millions of Americans with loose platitudes about American exceptionalism. “Shut up” she says.
The article reeks of cognitive dissonance and ignorance of the real world in favor of a conservative mythos parroted by the ignorant in right wing echo chambers. I thought it worth exploring the content of this article, its claims, and replying to them and those who would share such a piece. Here we go.
“Most of your days are probably similar to mine. Where we as Americans enjoy the freedom and luxuries, and even have the audacity to complain about things many countries can't even imagine having.”
I was raised on this sort of thinking. Reminders that we are lucky in the United States. Running water? Check. Electricity? Check. Food on the table? Check check. We are lucky in this sense, blessed in this sense, and we have much to be grateful for in this sense. But this line of thinking also silences dissatisfaction that would lead to meaningful change. It ignores real world realities that also prove that others indeed have it better than us. Others that we might learn from in order to improve our own lot and that of our children.
“The Syrian government has been severely corrupt for a very long time (as well as a 6 year civil war in Syria), and there have been suspicions of highly illegal chemical weapons in their possession. Well this week, they proved those suspicions correct, and killed nearly 100 innocent Syrians, mainly women and children. President Trump was horrified by the videos he saw of the piles of dead children, or the villagers spraying down one another to try to get the chemicals off their skin. President Trump decided a major line had been crossed, and it was time to do something about it. About 60 American missiles were aimed at a Syrian government airbase where the warplanes that carried out the nuclear attack were based."
I really wish the author hadn’t tried to veer into foreign policy. The entire paragraph above drips with ignorance of the situation in Syria, the myriad of regional complexities, history and recent developments all. The emotional appeal to justify Trump’s questionably effective cruise missile strikes on the Al-Sharyat Airbase fails to consider the events leading up to the strike, which in my estimation constitutes nothing more than expensive theatre directed at a domestic audience. For all the uncertainty surrounding the attack and response, it most definitely was not ‘nuclear’ as the author suggests.
“After the recent election, I saw so many negative comments about the US. How terrible of a country it is, how terrible Americans are, how much they wanted to leave. My response? Please leave. Please spend a few weeks in pretty much any other country in the world and you will be banging the door down trying to get back into the states.”
That conservative mythos again. How many times have I heard the comment “please leave.” I have spent time in parts of the world notably behind the United States in most measures of development. I have spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan and I have spent time in Europe, among nations we might consider our relative peers; peers who, in many ways, are doing far better than us. I would rather we take lessons from nations whose citizens enjoy universal healthcare, higher rates of public safety and lower rates of crime, higher performing students and lower prison populations. I’d rather learn from states which have worked to address inequality, are working to face climate change and have long settled social disputes which still plague American discourse today. No one from the UK is banging down the door to get into America for our healthcare system. No one in Germany is banging down the door for our expensive colleges. No one from Holland is banging down our door to surrender their social safety nets and no one from Scandanavia is wishing they could lap up some of our inequality.
I love my home, and it because of that love that I wish to make it better, to fight for it, even if that means fighting against a popular tide of prideful ignorance that swept a buffoon like Donald Trump into office.
Further, her comment on seeing so many negative comments about the US…was it not Trump himself who spoke of an American carnage, of how we simply weren’t winning anymore? It was the Trump crowd who longed for a return to the “good old days” and spoke again and again of crisis or drama at home. For someone to so quickly forget the source of so many comments which seemed to think so little of us as a whole says a whole lot about their world view and capacity for critical thinking as a whole.
“American women want to fight for the equal wages, when women in other countries get beat and mutilated for simply being a woman. The LGBTQ community is becoming more accepted in America, in other countries you would be killed. You get offended because someones religious views are different than yours, but in many other countries you will be brutally tortured for having opposing views. You get annoyed because your friend posts way too much on social media, but in some countries the internet is completely controlled by the government. Everyone in America wants to have a mental illness, or glorifies the idea of being different, but in other countries you are considered demonic and again will be killed. You want to walk in a parade about "freeing the nipple" when women in other countries would kill to have their face uncovered, or show their hair. You get to go to the clean sanitary hospital and get medical treatment because you have an upset stomach, when other countries don't even have access to medical treatment, even in life threatening situations."
The next paragraph goes on to make vast generalizations about rights around the world. While not roundly incorrect in each instant, there are counter examples for nearly every case. American women fight for equal wages because equality is the right thing. LGBTQ acceptance and equality is the right thing. The fact that it may be worse elsewhere does not lessen our need to push forward. The fact that America remains the only developed nation without paid maternity leave guaranteed for mothers should be concerning. The fact that religious views creep into our politics and seek to control the rights of others over their bodies or right to marry should be of concern. The fact that mass surveillance is accepted and as of this month, ISPs are allowed to monitor and profit off of your browsing habits as if you never had a right to privacy should be concerning. The fact that so many Americans with mental illness are on the streets, the fact that a for-profit healthcare system has relegated millions to an underperforming and over priced system all the while ignoring functioning universal systems which serve all citizens in nations we consider to be our closest allies. Smith speaks of demonic superstition while again ignoring the religious justifications for the oppression of LGBTQ citizens and the creeping preference of religious dogma over hard science. Among our peers, we are behind. That does not mean we need to remain behind.
“You get to wake up everyday, eat whatever you want, drive in your car to your job, and you don't have armed soldiers lining the streets, or the fear that there is going to be another bomb dropped at any moment. This country is full of people who will stand in line all night for a gift, but won't stand up for the pledge of allegiance. Get up or get out."
No, all Americans don’t get to wake up every day and eat what they want, drive in their car, etc etc. Your privilege is showing Bonnie. As for the rest. Who else is dropping bombs but us? Who, by and large, is the one sending armed troops to line foreign streets? It’s us! So we should be grateful that we don’t have a bigger and badder nation looming over us and the rest of the world ready and able to invade should the mood strike? This odd mashup of pity for those who have to live under the threat of regular bombings or military occupation and ignorance of our association with just that sort of action is boggling.
“Seriously, get over yourself.
You have no idea how lucky you are to be able to say whatever you want and not be killed by the government for it, to wear whatever you want, to be whoever you want and not be murdered just for living. You are so lucky you don't have to worry about having clean water, or food to eat.
American's want to cry about everything. We have become so entitled that we think everyone owes us something. Well, they don't.
You want to talk about "white privilege" or "entitled millennials." Yeah, well I think all American's think they are pretty entitled, and thats coming from an American. America, your privilege is showing.”
Actually, I do have an idea how lucky we are. I’ve witnessed the desolation in Kabul, the frenzied rush to stay afloat amidst poverty in Mumbai, the constant threat of war in Kashmir and the simple lives so many global poor have been left with after the world passed them by all while images of abundance reach through screens of one size or another. I’ve witnessed the fight for secure elections in Iraq and as anyone who pays attention to history might recognize, we are blessed to have found ourselves in a nation borne of enlightenment principles, only it isn’t by mere luck that this occurred. It was because generations of our forebears sought and fought to make life better for themselves and for those yet to come.
No one owes us anything, sure, we owe each other. We owe ourselves. We owe each other empathy and compassion. We owe ourselves hard work and purpose. We owe our neighbors and our family and the strangers on the street a better future because we are all, ultimately, along this ride together.
“Stop bashing America when you can't even fathom how lucky we are to be here.
This should piss you off, I hope it does. I hope you can look deeper into yourself and realize how blessed you really are. You may have been dealt the shittiest of hands, but if you get to call America home, you still have a better hand than millions of other people. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
"For you have been called to live in freedom... use your freedom to serve one another in love." Galatians 5:13”"
Of course it ends in a bible verse. Of course that verse implores social good and compassion which seems completely absent from virtually every platform conservatives stand on. It’s this sort of logic that leaves me dumbfounded. How a party so closely aligned with evangelicals can be the same party whose essential message seems to be, "screw everyone else, I’ve got mine” or in the case of Smith’s article, "shut up, be grateful for what you have.”
We’re capable of better, together, but the echo chamber that birthed this nonsense is toxic and spreading. We’ve got a long time before elections allow us to respond at the ballot box, but this sort of ignorance cannot be allowed to propagate unchallenged in the meantime.