Long post incoming, but it’s been on my mind for some time.
We live in a topsy-turvy country. The gloss on the package says we’re a Christian nation, exceptional in every way to other countries past and present, and that we represent a beacon of morality to which the rest of the world can follow. Or more simply, in the words of Fox News pundit, Andrea Tantaros, we’re awesome.
Yet, consider the following litany of shit simmering under that glossy surface of chest-thumping patriotism:
1.) We incarcerate an inordinate amount of people, many for nonviolent crimes, most black and brown and a great deal of violent crime goes unsolved.
2.) There’s two aspects to the perception of prison, which are contradictory it would seem. There are Americans that think prison is just kick-ass, a breeze; watch some television and eat free meals. Then there are others that glibly joke about criminals getting raped. So, either people are misunderstanding just how shitty prison actually is or people do recognize how shitty it is and cheerlead such shitty qualities.
3.) We tortured. We tortured innocent people. We raped them. We tortured a mentally handicap person. Some of those people, innocent, died. Torture was used to (try to) leverage the greatest blunder in the 21st century, the Iraq War. We farmed out individuals to brutal dictators, like Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad and former Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It’s ineffective, as in it doesn’t even work. We were lied to. Etc. Etc. Everything after “we tortured,” is merely piling on or it should be. But according to polls, even if you call it torture, most Americans are all for it.
4.) President Obama arguably ended the torture apparatus (although, there’s no way to really know and Jeremy Scahill thinks it continued in Somalia), but only went a worse way: Killing through drones without due process instead of torturing without due process. He killed a 16-year-old American teenager. He killed a few other Americans. He’s killed countless innocent Pakistanis, Afghans, Libyans, Somalians, and the list goes on. He won a Nobel Peace Prize. Most Americans support the drone program.
5.) We have no comprehensive idea how often police officers in this country kill citizens. We have no comprehensive idea how often police officers in this country wound citizens. We have no comprehensive idea who they’re killing or wounding. We have no comprehensive idea how many dogs the police are killing. Tough on crime policies like the broken windows policy in NYC, judges that want to appear tough on criminals, the further militarization of the police, the ever-increasing use of SWAT deployments (even for minimal offenses) since the 1980s, the utter lack of accountability for wrongdoing, the inherent bias in the prosecutor-police relationship and the list goes on, and yet, police as an institution are routinely within the top three most liked institutions in the United States by Americans and are revered.
6.) Likewise, the military is also considered sacrosanct. “Support the troops!” is the slogan, right? But how many wars are we going to keep asking them to fight? They’re back in Iraq again. How many wars are we going to ask them to fight when we still haven’t taken care of their health and problems back home? How many homeless vets are there? How many soldiers have killed themselves? Yet, more war. War. War. War.
7.) Going back into the prison point, Americans consistently support the death penalty, usually a good bit over half, and yet, we know it’s killed innocent people. We know innocent people would have been killed had they not been exonerated. We see here in Ohio and Arizona it cruelly kill people. And yet.
8.) The way we treat immigrants is fucked up. Let’s establish a fence on an imaginary line between Mexico and the United States. Think about that for a second. When the mass of children escaping hellish circumstances in South American (in some part due to our War on Drugs) countries came here, as refugees, they were treated like invaders.
9.) We continue to pour money into the War on Drugs, locking up nonviolent offenders, often for minuscule offenses. Citizens in the United States have been anally raped to “find drugs.” Sure, marijuana seems to be going in the right direction, which is great, but it’s still an enormous money-making scheme for the police and the municipalities they serve in waging this war. Whether because of the federal grants and other incentives they get to do so or through assert forfeiture, one of the ugliest modern abuses of the police.
10.) Finally, far too many Americans think we live in a post-racial society. Look at polls on how Americans along racial lines view Ferguson or race in general.
Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m glad to be living in the United States. Despite all of the above, despite a great many more problems, it’s still by virtue of many things (capitalism for one, in spite of the government) a much better country to live in than many places on Earth. But that’s not the same as exceptionalism and it most certainly doesn’t mean we are morally superior to others or that Americans are more worthy of human dignity and respect and empathy than others.
Likewise, alongside all the above and beyond, there are also a great many great things from great people working to reverse those or hold those abusers accountable. From the likes of an Edward Snowden to tireless reporters like Radley Balko that was plugging away at police militarization for the longest time before arriving at the Washington Post’s platform, and from other areas that show the better side of Americans, like our propensity for charity, even in the face of how much the government circumvents that, or our culture of kick-ass movies, music, books, and otherwise choice; we have a lot of choice and freedom in spite of the attempts to rid of them.
In other words, don’t mistake that list for cynicism or hating America. More so, I think as a country, we have a tendency to employ amnesia to history and to not have much introspection about what we do due to the aforementioned belief in exceptionalism. We have an “innocence” problem. We think, even when we do wrong, we didn’t “mean to,” so it’s okay. We don’t have to prosecute those who tortured. We give the police the benefit of the doubt. Slavery was 150 years ago, man! We think 9/11 happened in a vacuum. Etc. etc.
I don’t want to get too sweepingly grandiose as I close this out, but only by looking at where we’ve fucked up and continue to fuck up, can we stop fucking up. I mean, it’s really that simple, I think, to put it in slang parlance. But as long as we keep going, “We’re awesome,” while all that shit simmers under the surface, well, much like economist “experts” thought the housing market would keep going up and up in before and up to 2008 before it crashed in 2008, there’s always a ceiling. There’s nothing that says America will maintain its position. We have to work at it. We have to establish some moral footing again.