The Broad is Back!

July 3, 2009

Proud to be an American? Perhaps

Filed under: American culture,New Broads,patriotism — by maggiec @ 2:23 pm
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Today on Facebook, a friend posted the question: “So tell me, why are you proud to be an American?”

Because I’m either contrary or a precise user of words, I initially wrote this:

“I don’t take pride in being an American, because that would be like being proud of being white or a woman or Irish-American. I was born that way. BUT, I love my country fiercely because it is, in theory, a republic of virtue, striving to uphold the highest ideals of Western Humanism: freedom, liberty, responsibility, charity. We fail too many times because America is made of humans, but at least we’re trying. I’ve lived around the world and seen other countries. I know this country is hated, envied, feared and loved. I know my country has done things in the past of which I am not proud at all. But I continue to love my country because we are the great experiment. Sometimes we fail, but then we keep trying. And because I love my country, I hold it to the highest standards. Like many in America’s history, I am an idealist. We also have the best possible government humans can design, I think. Our administrations aren’t all that great far too many times, but the design is brilliant.

And I wouldn’t NOT be an American ever. I’ve met lots of Americans in my time overseas who gave up their American citizenship. I would never ever do that. Maybe it’s how I use the word “proud”. I tend to be proud of accomplishments. I am proud that I am an active participant in the experiment that is America. Uh-oh, I’ve got too much to say on this to post here. I’m going to post on my blog.”

And so here I am.

I think it’s proud that I was reacting to.  But anyone who’s read me for a while knows I love America.  That’s one of the reasons I write.

Since I also teach American Cultural Studies in Sweden, I’m taking a short cut here and posting a lecture I did in Sweden.  So here it goes:

Many Europeans wags have said that there is no such thing as American culture, that it’s an oxymoron like military intelligence and plastic glasses. Or at the very most, it’s nothing but a conglomeration of pop culture – Barbie, Campbell’s Soup and the Brady Bunch. That always burns my biscuits, since America has a great cultural heritage. Yes, much of it was brought over from the Old World, but it melded with the New. The Constitution of the United States is a prime example. It blends the ideals of John Locke, the great British philosopher with the ideals and format of the Constitution of the Iroquois Nation, something that was in place and working even in pre-colonial times.

For an interesting look at the documents important to the culture of our government, and indeed, our culture, I recommend the page maintained by the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law. There you’ll find links to important documents from the Magna Carta to the 2009 Inaugural Address. And you’ll also find the documents that have blended in to create American culture.

There’s the rousing speech Patrick Henry gave in 1775, ending with the famous words, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” There’s the Declaration of Independence, the writings of Ben Franklin and the Federalist Papers.

Moving on in history, the page includes links to the short but extremely moving Gettysburg Address.  What American can’t recite its opening lines, “”Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

And there are more documents – the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King’s stirring I Have a Dream speech, even things as seemingly mundane as the lyrics to Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

One of the most moving documents I found there was President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. I highly recommend reading it, for it is as powerful and as timely today as it was on that January morning in 1961. I’m sure you know it by its famous line: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

But it goes on:

“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

“Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

Heady stuff, all of this. It’s wonderful, stirring rhetoric, and I recommend it. Perhaps it’s not always easy to read, but nothing worthwhile is easy, right?

I get back to the question: “Why am I who I am?”  I find that as a broad abroad, with a kid abroad, it’s something I ask more and more. What makes me the person I am? What cultural references inform the way I see the world?

Most Americans never read all this material, but it’s there in our subconscious. We got highlights in history class and can quote King, Kennedy, Jefferson and Franklin without even stopping to think about it. I didn’t read Ralph Waldo Emerson until I was in graduate school, but as soon as I read his essays on education I understood American schools.

Living abroad has changed my worldview. That was inevitable. But my core values haven’t been changed. I still believe in the same things I believed in when I lived in America.

This musing in turn leads me to America and the Great American Experiment. How have we managed to become such a unified country when for the past 227 years we’ve been swept by wave after wave of immigrants? Not only have we managed, we’ve done pretty well. It’s our immigrants that make us great, just as it’s something that weakens us. Not the immigrants, per se, but our reaction to them. Every time we as a nation do something racist or xenophobic towards our immigrants, we weaken America as a whole, the ideal that is America.

The American Dream: The term was first used by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America which was written in 1931. He states: “The American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of t he fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Some say, that the American Dream has become the pursuit of material prosperity – that people work more hours to get bigger cars, fancier homes, the fruits of prosperity for their families – but have less time to enjoy their prosperity. Others say that the American Dream is beyond the grasp of the working poor who must work two jobs to insure their family’s survival. Yet others look toward a new American Dream with less focus on financial gain and more emphasis on living a simple, fulfilling life.

Thomas Wolfe said, “…to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity ….the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him.”

Core Values

I talk about American core values, but what do I mean by that phrase?  A core value is a value that is an integral part of a belief system.  A Christian core value is that Christ is the Messiah.

Americans themselves debate on our “core values,” but there are some that we all believe.  It’s the interpretations that vary.

Liberty is one.  This is so important to Americans that we have Lady Liberty at our border.

People visit this monument, and get choked up when they see it, not because it’s beautiful art.  But because we believe in what she stands for.

I was trying to list the others and was having trouble making it clear.  Then I found this on a blog (got to love the Net).

A while back, I saw a presentation by public opinion researcher John Russonello, who has advised many progressive organizations on messaging and framing.

Russonello lists only a few core values, and divides them into two tiers.

Primary values * individual responsibility * family security * honesty * fairness * freedom * work * spirituality

Secondary values * responsibility to help others * compassion * personal fulfillment * respect for authority * love of country (Jom Stalh’s Journal)

So for all these reasons I love America. I’m proud of America because it tries. It doesn’t always get it, but we strive, and that’s half the battle.

Note on this text: I am an inveterate recycler of my own writing.  I had forgotten that much of this lecture came from the post Multicultural Children, which is also on this site.  It you’re copying from yourself, is it still plagiarism?



  1. Eloquent and educational with an interesting wrap up on our core values as a nation. In my keynotes and workshops I build on the phrase, “Extraordinary leaders have extraordinary character(values), with extraordinary character they are not afraid.” When I use the phrase ‘they are not afraid’, I don’t mean scaredy cat afraid or even the other end of the spectrum of arrogance. What I mean is being afraid more often than not will inhibit our success as leaders, whether as individuals or as a nation.

    For example. Being afraid to make mistakes keeps us from taking risks. The extraordinary leader learns from mistakes. Being afraid of confrontation keeps us from expressing our thoughts and feeling. The extraordinary leader sees it as an opportunity for the exchange of ideas. Being afraid of rejection keeps us isolated. The extraordinary leader understands sometimes they have to make the tough decision.

    Having extraordinary character (values) is what made us a great nation – 100% responsibility, family, honesty, fairness, freedom, work ethics, spirituality, compassion, personal fulfillment, respect for authority, love of country – and will be our downfall if we lose them.

    As individuals and as a nation we must take 100% responsibility for our actions. Be willing to protect and defend your family and country, let no harm come to either of them. Sometimes the truth hurts, being honest and fair doesn’t mean being rude and obnoxious. Being honest and fair is about growth, personal growth and helping others to grow. As Victor Frankle indicates in his book, “In Search of Meaning” and Ed Hubbard in “Escape From the Box” freedom is more than liberty. As prisoners in WWII and Viet Nam respectfully, they were the ones who were free. The guards were the real prisoners for their minds had been captured, no longer able to think or decide for themselves. As a nation we were founded on the spiritual principles of Christianity, and even today as spiritually diverse as we are, it’s believing in a greater power than ourselves. None of these character traits would have real value if they weren’t tempered with compassion for friend and foe alike. This country was, and continues to be built on the dreams of our founding fathers as well as the citizens of today and throughout our history. You can be, do or have anything you want – as long as you are willing to work for it, take responsibility and dream. So go ahead, dream. It’s your dream so dream big. Respect of authority is based on the rule of law – social laws, and is important to having order versus chaos. Equally, if not more important is the natural law of respect. That is, there may be something or someone we don’t respect, however the extraordinary leader is respectful. A value or something we are afraid of? I think it’s both. To love is to take risks – to put feeling and emotions out on the table unexposed, open to the elements of hurt and pain. But to love as a value gives us the desire and strength to endure . . . to not be afraid.

    Like Margarette, I too love my country. There is nothing more exciting than to take a visitor from another country and view the NYC skyline from the Staten Island ferry, or bury your feet in the sugary white sand of the Gulf Coast; drive across the Mississippi river; view the Sandia Mountains from the west mesa as the sun sets; arrive at the Grand Canyon under the cover of darkness and see their expression when they walk out the front door of their rim side cabin the next morning; and together gaze at the enormity of the trees in the Sequoia National Park. Yup, I love this place.

    But I am also proud to be an American and be associated with the men and women who fought and died for our independence, our freedoms and yes our way of life. I’m proud of my ancestors and other men and women who came to this land as immigrants and immediately referred to themselves as Americans. I’m proud of the men and women who built the NYC skyline, the St Louis Arch and the Golden Gate Bridge. In the face of our ignorance and errors as a nation, I am proud of the men, women and children who saw something more in us as a nation and endured in the face of the ugliness of slavery, discrimination and the “taming” of the west. We are a better nation for it. I’m proud of the first responders who gave their lives to ensure the safety of the occupants of the twin towers. And I’m proud of the men and women who are employed by our governments (local, state and federal) who do work hard, live by our national values, and provide us with the services we’ve come to expect. That is America.

    So let me ask. Do you get excited when an American wins an Olympic gold and goose bumps when our national anthem is played? Why? You had nothing to do with their win. You see, that’s called pride – pride in being an American.

    Comment by Anthony — July 4, 2009 @ 7:46 am |Reply

  2. I have to say that I find many people who make comments like your initial comments on FB are only out to be shocking, and seek to start a trend to be different. Attention getters. I find your position to be just that. I find it incredible that there are many of those in academia who espouse freedom of words and thought, and a desire to be oneself without retribution, yet they attempt to disgrace those who take a position on any issue that opposes their own, like pride in their heritage.

    There is nothing wrong with pride in your ethnicity, gender, heritage, or citizenship! We were all born into it, and it is wonderful to be proud of it. Whether you are a monk in Burma, or a soldier in the Russian Army you should be proud of who you are…So, to say that ‘I am proud to be an American’ is like saying that I am proud to be white, or black, or hispanic, or asian, or purple or red…you should be! And be the best one of those that you were born to be!

    As you quote our leaders that help shape America, do not forget those other quotes that have made us who we are:

    “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and “After the chaos and carnage of September 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers.”

    “America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children.”

    “A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”

    “Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.”

    As our mutual friend can attest, I have lived outside our borders several times, and I continue to travel outside the border, and I have adopted a culture that I was not ‘born’ into, and yet I am proud to be an American, and proud of where I came from. You should embrace that as well…

    Comment by Scott — July 4, 2009 @ 8:28 am |Reply

  3. As you say, it’s how people use words. If you’re proud to be an American, go for it. I’m not ashamed to be an American, and as I say, I wouldn’t trade it for any other nationality. I was brought up not to be proud of things we were born to: be that brains, looks, (neither of which I claim to have in abundance!), but that’s me. I am glad to be an American: I am proud of America. All semantics, really.

    And I wasn’t out to shock at all. I was just trying to clarify my own feelings about America, a place of which I’m proud. I was born with some great gifts (like being an American) and some not so great gifts (too many to list). What I do with them is something I can be proud of, but not that I was given them through accidents of birth. And I have to conduct my life in a way that brings honor to my country and makes my country proud to have me as an American.

    And Anthony, I have to laugh. I can be proud of the accomplishments of other Americans! In fact I am proud of them–they worked hard for all of their accomplishments, be they Olympic Gold or liberating a country or fighting or dying to defend America and Americans. But for me to be proud of a really good roll of the genetic dice? My grandmother would kill me for that!

    You should read the essay on here called Visceral Beauty. I love this place, too. All of it!

    Comment by maggiec — July 6, 2009 @ 3:07 pm |Reply

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