What Does Being American Mean?

There’s been significant commentary about the vitriol building up against the “pro-American” versus “anti-American” arguments that have recently surfaced in the presidential campaign. Since I’ve been losing the uphill battle of keeping politics and social commentary away from this blog (my 2005 self would slap me upside the head right about now), I figured I’d just give in and embrace the crapulence.

Here’s what bothers me about the whole thing.

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Forget the McCarthyistic overtones of calls to weed out who’s anti-American in Congress. (Next on the list: Let’s hunt down all the left-handed people in the world and send them to death camps! Did I say death camps? I meant happy camps.) Forget the gratuitous third grade name-calling. And forget that despite all the rhetoric, little attention has actually been paid on proposing solutions to our nations’ ever-mounting issues: the apocalyptic economy, dying mammals, and why the new Knight Rider is still on the air.

But the whole notion of labeling your fellow citizen “pro-American” or “anti-American” strikes me as utter ridonkulousness.

In the first place, I don’t think as a nation we’ve even figured out what being American means.

Does being American mean having to like apple pie?

Does being American mean ordering Freedom Fries instead of French Fries?

Does being American mean having to wear an American flag pin? (For the record, I do.)

Does being American mean conforming to the stereotypical image of Jack and Diane—blond, blue-eyed high school quarterbacks and cheerleaders?

Does being American mean every man for himself (i.e., not paying taxes) or putting country first (i.e., paying taxes)?

Does being American mean wantonly celebrating the excesses of big houses, big cars, and big boobs?

Does being American mean embodying all that Superman stood for—truth, justice, and the American way, whatever the hell that is?

Or does being American mean doing what it takes to preserve the ideals that made us the land of the free and the home of the brave?

So when someone accuses you of being anti-American, what exactly are they accusing you of?

We are a country of diverse individuals, united by the ideals of a democratic society, where people from all races, ethnicities, genders, religions, creeds, sexual orientations, and walks of life would have the same opportunities under the law.

Our country was founded by rebel immigrants—a ragtag bunch of colony rejects dissatisfied with the status quo—precisely to live out those ideals. Of course our forefathers weren’t perfect (e.g., slavery, pretty much screwing women over until the early 20th century, etc.). But they wanted to make sure that everyone who came to America would escape Britain’s tyranny and be guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That seems fairly straightforward.

To ensure that what we do preserves our neighbor’s right to enjoy life, to be free, and to pursue his or her own happiness—no matter how misguided. That’s what it means to be American.

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