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May God Save America

May God Save America

I write this with regret rather than loathing but I have to write it nevertheless. The most powerful country in the world, the United States (US), has not lost its way but never genuinely found or knew it. This is an extremist nation parading as moderate; a reactionary country disguised as liberal; a closed-minded society pretending to be enlightened.

Obviously the US boasts great universities, grand gestures, generous people and abounds in talent and even genius. But then so do most countries. And here is one of the fundamental problems of America: it sees itself as superior to others, able to pursue its own path, to be a model and an example.

First is a distorted and dishonest sense of history, taking on mythological significance. The US was not founded on freedom and sacrifice at all. Many of the settlers were religious extremists who fled the relative diversity of Jacobean Britain and the religious settlement that resisted Puritanism. The pilgrims didn’t flee because they were persecuted, they fled because they wanted to impose intolerance.

The revolutionaries of the late eighteen-century were far more committed to slavery than were the British and far more hostile towards indigenous people. London was not a harsh master and merely asked for a tiny amount of taxation so as to pay for the enormous cost of the French and Indian War that had saved the Americans.

From this event modern America bases it gun fetish, its right – its need – to own deadly weapons, as well as its sense of liberty. But that liberty is more selfishness than freedom, and was always built on enslaving an entire race. It took 620,000 dead soldiers to end slavery, and its bastard child racism still infects almost every aspect of American society.

From all of this comes the cult of the individual. While Canada and Europe think in terms of the communal and the societal the key political ingredient of the American political meal is “I” and “me.” The state is always to be feared, authority can never be munificent, a gun allows the citizen to survive. It’s all balderdash of course but the national conversation is awash in it.

Next is the tragic perversion of Christianity. While Americans may claim separation of church and state, no Christian nation with an established church is as controlled by one faith as is the US. Nor is it the Christianity of love, gentleness and social justice but prudishness, crusading self-righteousness and the notion of the light upon the hill shining bright for the rest of the heathens to see.

It goes without saying, of course, that countless Americans have resisted the dominant themes in their national psyche and culture but the point is that they are not the norm and that chauvinistic and false history, crass individualism, racial division, the deification of the gun and religious extremism are indeed the very psyche and culture they have rejected.

This is a nation of incalculable wealth and scientific brilliance. Yet it is virtually alone in the western world in defending the death penalty, resisting public medicine, glorifying in callow propaganda such as Fox News, and assuming it has an inalienable right to be the world’s moral arbiter and policeman.

We cringe as we see images of a black man held to the ground and repeatedly shot by the police, another killed after a trivial issue. But is this really such a surprise? In our deepest thoughts, most of us register horror but resignation. After all, we say, it’s what goes on down there.

The US can only advance when it comes to terms less with its contemporary failings than with the deeper reasons why it behaves the way it does. There is greatness in this place but a greatness weighed down with the baggage of propaganda, superstition and arrogance, armed to the teeth and the belly. Less God bless than God save America.

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