Washington Post columnist David Broder donned his rubber gloves and plucked from his inbox a report from the right wing Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The organization fears that "America's national identity is eroding under the pressure of population diversity and educational slackness." Broder, on the other hand, sees no cause for alarm.
The report points out that American identity rests, "not on a common ethnicity, but on a set of ideas," and bemoans the fact that those ideas are no longer central to the American mindset. Per the report, "84 percent of Americans believe that we 'share a unique national identity based on a shared set of beliefs, values, and culture.'" However, younger citizens are less likely to believe in a binding national identify. Meanwhile 63 percent of Americans believe that our national identity is growing weaker.
As remedy, the report prescribes more education in American history that promotes "informed patriotism:"
There are dangers to certain kinds of patriotism, but there are equal dangers to no patriotism at all. There is a middle ground, a "patriotism of principles," to use the language of the American Federation of Teachers, based on a "common core of history [that] binds us together." Americans should embrace an informed patriotism that expresses our devotion to our country and our bond with our fellow citizens."
A couple of fallacies popped to mind -- fallacies that might account for the lack of education in American identity and ideals. First, for most of this nation's history, full American identity was, in fact, based on "a common ethnicity." It was based on being "white." If you were not, you were not a full citizen with a full citizen's rights, despite all the high ideals ingeniously put forth on those yellowing sheets of paper.
Prior to those horrible 1960s (you know, when all good things like the unquestionability of white male privilege came to an end), this omission did not matter. This disconnect was insignificant because its victims were invisible.
Once America was forced to confront the stark division between its actions and its ideals, a splintering began. Suddenly visible, minorities demanded to be seen. In reaction, the majority recoiled. The Nixonian politics of division took root and they have been with us ever since. "The silent majority" and "law and order" became codes for us versus them.
Ever since being forced to acknowledge that we had betrayed our ideals, we've been sulking. For decades, America has been trapped in this protracted adolescent posture that makes it impossible for us to agree on what America is, much less effectively teach it.
We have not progressed to the point where we can teach our history in full -- warts and all. To study "the bond with our fellow citizens," demands that we also study where and how those bonds have broken down throughout our history. Organizations like the Bradley foundation make it impossible to do that. They blame "a neglect of America's heroes and dramatic achievements" for a lack of interest in America's history.
"Too often," they write, "students are taught more about America's failings than its successes. Absent are those 'mystic chords of memory' that Abraham Lincoln believed held our country together."
Both Lincoln and the report's authors fail to acknowledge that those memories can strike dissonant chords -- both "mystic" and "cryptic."
The report's authors still insist that America be taught to the rousing accompaniment of fife and drum. They don't realize that that version is boring; it's unidimensional and obviously false. (Yo! Over here! Black guy. See?) They insist that American identity is dependent on the lie of an enlightened exceptionalism as opposed to the truth of a flawed, continual tug-of-war between transcendent ideals and their spotty implementation.
Broder illustrates the point with the only genius he knows -- inadvertent:
I have not worried about the fundamental commitment of the American people since 1974. In that year, they were confronted with the stunning evidence that their president had conducted a criminal conspiracy out of the Oval Office. In response, the American people reminded Richard Nixon, the man they had just recently reelected overwhelmingly, that in this country, no one, not even the president, is above the law. They required him to yield his office.
That is not the sign of a nation that has lost its sense of values or forgotten the principles on which this system rests. And that is something worth celebrating on more than the Fourth of July.
Since 2003, it has become increasingly apparent that the sitting American president lied to the American people, this time in order to justify an unprovoked, unilateral attack against a sovereign government that posed no threat to the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the resulting conflict. Over 4000 American soldiers have died in the resulting conflict. Tens of thousands of American soldiers have been wounded in the resulting conflict. That same American president has honored himself with the Stalinesque right to spy on American citizens without warrant, to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens without trial, and to authorize the torture of suspects.
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