America Never Realized Its Dream. But It Could.
The United States has consistently failed to uphold its stated ideals. But it is capable of upholding them — and should!
The United States, in its entire history, has never once truly, fully, wholly lived up to its stated ideals. Countless times, it has betrayed them in horrible, monstrous ways. We pat ourselves on the back for a dream we have never made reality.
But we could.
And we should.
What if we all, together, as a people, said that we have to finally stand up for the values of the American Revolution? For once in our history. To be the nation that people like Thomas Paine wanted. One that took care of everyone. One that wanted mutually beneficial relationships with people of other races and cultures. One that viewed the democracy of the Iroquois Federation as an ideal to uphold.
We could do it. We really could. People just need the right inspiration and understanding.
The legacy of the American Revolution is, in so many ways, broken and dark — I’m not trying to claim otherwise. But that revolution has principles worth fighting for that may have sputtered and stumbled along, but they endured. As so many others have crumbled away. As so many other torches to the future were snuffed out.
While so many of the the cynical bastards rife in Left spaces were insistent you can’t vote out fascists, we fucking did. Triumphantly. And we turned a part of the Deep South blue.
The United States is not some fixed, static thing that can never be more than the worst atrocities of its past. It is capable of evolution and change, and we can help nourish it to flourish in the ways it never could before.
We are a nation built on slavery and Indigenous genocide, and an America that truly lives up to its stated principles is one that will never stop working to make that right. Because that’s what we have to mean when we say ALL are created equal. All the suffering wrought in our past has to mean something.
But just because there is darkness does not mean there cannot be light, and letting light into your heart is the first step into letting more light into the world, because being a cynic, being reactive, jumping to conclusions, and never expecting anything to get better becomes a terrible self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’ve watched as so many clearly well-meaning people rush to find every single fucking way to immediately paint Joe Biden as a disappointment, an imperialist, etc. — often based on blatant misunderstandings of civics and political processes. All while he has accomplished a surprising amount compared to past presidents in his initial days in office — even more than FDR.
Yes, Joe Biden is a deeply flawed man. But we’re a deeply flawed country, and ridding the country of Trump represents an opportunity for a new beginning. Are we going to take advantage of that or not?
Truthfully, we have little choice. We live in an era of compounding catastrophes: international fascism, climate change, pandemics, and so much more. An America without Trump full of people willing to be inspired to strive to make America what it was always supposed to be can make a huge difference against all of these problems.
I know this is hard for some to believe. You can fill a library full of thick tomes with lists of all the horrible things the US has done, and those should be repaired as much as possible and never, ever forgotten.
But our past does not define our future. We do. Collectively, all of us together do.
The United States government, for better or worse, is not going away anytime soon. Many people I consider well-meaning friends and comrades do not like to hear this, but do not be a naive fool and think otherwise.
But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. Do not let this bind you into inaction. There are so many people here who will stop listening to a word you say the minute you talk about the United States as unsalvageable, however. But so much can be done if you speak to the people of this country through the story of its failed promises.
Ask people to make this country what it lies to itself about being for the first time in existence. Make it that beacon of light. Finally light the torch that Lady Liberty carries.
You can spend your youth fantasizing about the glorious revolution that ends the evil American empire, but it is like waiting around for the Rapture. It’s a secular religion, waiting for a reckoning that may never come.
Politics that doesn’t get results is just spectacle. You know who accomplished a lot of change? Abraham Motherfucking Lincoln. The Absolute Badass. Who got this country at least a bit closer to that ideal — even if there were setbacks after.
Lincoln wasn’t all that died in the aftermath of the Civil War. Reconstruction did too — the very deliberate attempt to remake America to finally match its own vainglorious image. Lincoln is dead, but Reconstruction can be reborn.
People dismiss the ending of Game of Thrones, and I agree with so many of the the criticisms. But Tyrion gives a speech about the power of stories when nominating… Bran. However, he has a point.
When Dostoyevsky said, “Beauty will save the world,” this is sort of what he was trying to say — that our souls can be stirred into doing truly wondrous things if we can only find the inspiration. The beauty is the spark that can light the torch.
There is a grand contradiction in the US: that of the wretchedness of our reality and history versus the beauty of our stated ideals and principles. That beauty can not just be used to inspire people to rectify the past, it can inspire them to rise to the challenge to solve things like climate change. It’s the same spirit that drove the Space Race.
Langston Hughes wrote a poem, “Let America Be America Again,” that captures this contradiction so well — better than I ever could. Between its scathing critiques are appeals to this beauty we have never lived.
“O let America be America again —
The land that never has been yet —
And yet must be — the land where every man is free.”
To say that, because America has never lived up to its stated ideals, it can never live up to its stated ideas, is a defeatist attitude. I know at least some of the people reading this grew up thinking this country was far better than it actually was. It was a lie. But make it a truth with me. We can together.
Note: This article was originally published on February 28th, 2021 on Medium. The vast majority of articles on the Substack are first-run publications, but we wanted to feature this article for Independence Day.