Ah, those amber fields of grain, those purple mountains' majesty, those fruited plains! How can we not love America, even when we get so mad at her we want to scream?
The other day, for example, I was on the treadmill at the spa. A friend came by, her cheeks cherry pink, her body steam-cleaned. We started talking about President George W. Bush and his ineptness, his lies, his abuses of power, his corrupt regime, and his attacks on American democracy. You know, the usual stuff. Then it occurred to me that despite the truths we were speaking, it was really hard to complain on a treadmill before I hit the hot tub.
While millions of people starve, die of AIDS, see their children die in their arms of dehydration, duck bombs and bullets (many of them
ours) and fight simply for clean drinking water, we Americans can choose one of 30 different brands of shampoo to clean our hair. And then we can use conditioner to make it silky.
In America we enjoy redundant abundance - we have too much to eat, too many clothing and style options, too much entertainment, too much comfort, too many magazines reinforcing every political opinion from skinhead to Naderite, as well as feeding us the latest scoop on Jennifer and Brad. We have too much of everything except freedom: we can never have enough freedom.
Redundant abundance is comforting - it means we'll have to lose many layers of insulation before our backs go up against the wall.
How can we not love the promise of America, the promise of democracy? How can we not be proud that our nation was founded in defiance of the divine right of kings and Cardinals?
The religious say that God is the only source of government, but America says no, government comes from the consent of the governed. Of the people, by the people and for the people - we shall not perish from the earth. On the whole, isn't this still a pretty revolutionary idea? True, our democracy is corrupted and full of holes. But even in its imperfect state, how can we not cherish it as we try to make it better?
How can we not love America when she has given the world jazz, baseball, Hollywood, e-mail, Google, Apple computers, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen?
How can we not love America when she gives us the right to pursue happiness even if we never achieve it. In most parts of the world, happiness is a luxury.
There's a lot wrong with America, especially now. If the Bushies hadn't caused so much damage, it would be fun to watch them fall apart. "President Bush's credibility problem seems not only the result of saying one thing while the truth is another," said Meir Carasso recently. "It is rather that of being unable to discern the differences, and of being entirely at the hands of the competent powerful who do. President Johnson opted not to run for a second term. Mr. Bush should do the same."
America is hated around the world today. Yet the people hating her do it while wearing Tommy Hilfiger t-shirts, baseball caps turned backwards, and Nikes. And while they're yelling and shaking a fist in the
air, they're holding bags from McDonald's in the other hand. People
still risk their lives to come here. They live in fear just to stay here. Most can separate Bush and his cronies from the joy of an America where redundant abundance rules, and where survival has become a television game instead of what you wake up to in the morning.
There are many countries in which I can't walk down the street alone. I can't choose the person I want to marry. In Saudi Arabia, I can't drive a car. Yet in America, I can write a contrarian political column every week. I can confront - at least in print - the president of the United States and the governor of Vermont. And then I can lie on my couch at night and watch television instead of being spirited away to prison, torture, death or "disappearance." In fact, I feel more vulnerable - at least to scorn - writing about what's good in America rather than writing another column about what's going wrong.
And oh yes, I can vote. As muddy as the political waters have become with money, power, ego, greed and influence, I still can vote.
Certainly America needs to change. She needs to share her abundance instead of protecting it. She needs to stop raiding other countries out of mad greed. She needs to treasure differences instead of trying to convert them. But at least she allows us to work for change.
People like me are sometimes accused of hating America, but that's so untrue. I love it so much that it hurts inside to see people like Bush, Cheney and Ashcroft running it into the ground.
I still get teary during Fourth of July parades. And I frequently bless my poor, tattered and frightened ancestors who had the courage to flee hatred and persecution and come to America so their children and grandchildren could have a better life.
I want you to know, Grandma and Grandpa Kagan, that your courage has been rewarded. If America is about the pursuit of happiness, then I have pursued it, caught it, married it, and live with it every day.
As much wrong as I see in America, as much change as I think we need, as much as she sometimes breaks my heart, I love America. As Chuck Berry says, "Well, I'm so glad I'm livin' in the U.S.A. Yes. I'm so glad I'm livin' in the U.S.A. Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A."
Joyce Marcel (email@example.com) is a free-lance journalist who lives in southern Vermont and writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.