I’m a corny person. What can I do? That’s who I am.
This comes to the surface particularly every 4th of July when fireworks are going off and people are in their red, white, and blue garb. Imagine this: an open Midwestern field on the edge of which are rows of porta-potties and a gravel parking lot. In the center is a stage with a middling country band playing to their crowd. On fold up lawn chairs there is much hocking of loogies and drinking of Bud Light. There are also children running around waving pinwheels which are spinning and glinting their reflected light in the grass.
Do you see it?
I am there with my hands in my pockets. I make an ironic comment like, wow, all these people are really into it. I have purposefully not worn red, white, or blue, to distance myself from a non-critical acceptance of my own country and culture. I have read too much Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky to wear red, white, and blue on the 4th of July. So I’d be there but not really there—walking around with intentional diffidence and neutrality.
Here’s the cornball part.
On the other side of this carefully cultivated distance, like a river rock you could turn over, is a pure patriotism that is inwardly hocking loogies and drinking Bud Lights. Maybe it is only my projection of a tame middle-western upbringing, but the response is involuntary. I feel a swell of pride. I am an American after all, and have had a pretty good life here. The smells of the burning sulfur and the popping noises bring back memories of lighting sparklers and firecrackers on the cul-de-sac, before I knew of anything America had done wrong, or of any wrongs done by any country.
But as soon as I feel this patriotism I know I have to convert it into something else. It’s too naïve and one-dimensional. A smart person with all the facts on their side could easily critique it and say why it’s wrong. And where would that leave me?
These two reactions, to me, represent two sides:
There is a 1960s-looking socialist intellectual wearing a tweed suit and thick-rimmed glasses and who is a world-weary foreign policy wonk. But there is also a straight laced conservative who gee gollies and aw shuckses his way between church picnics and fantasy football drafts. And these two are always at war with one another.
Two sides of the same river rock.
In other words it is as if the divisions we are experiencing in America today are something like a division I have in myself.
And where does that leave me.