"The United States of America!"
Doesn't saying it just make your heart leap for joy?
I start hearing the national anthem play in my head, see the rockets red glare bursting in air, the American flag waving majestically over the capital skyline.
But I started wondering the other day: What exactly does the 'united' stand for? What exactly during these contentious, deeply divisive, tragically troubled times does it mean?
'United' would seem to imply Unity. Agreement. Fellowship. Consensus. Harmony.
Does that sound like contemporary America to you?
Here are some big questions . . .
Are we united by a sense of national purpose?
Are we united by a belief in our destiny and place in history?
Are we united by confidence in our superiority?
Are we united in our belief in American exceptionalism?
Are we united in our desire for empire?
Are we united by a love for our fellow Americans?
Are we united by our patriotism and sense of duty?
Or . . . are we united by our indifference?
Are we united by our faith in the American Dream?
Or . . . are we united by our pessimism?
How about some systemic issues . . .
Are we united in our faith in capitalism?
Are we united in the trust of our government?
Are we united in our belief in American democracy?
Are we united by a trust in God?
A system of shared values?
Are we united by our sense of self-determination?
Or . . . are we united by our sense of helplessness?
Our vulnerability and fatalism?
How about some very specific issues . . .
Are we united in our love of guns?
Are we united by our freedom of speech?
Are we united by our disdain for socialism?
Are we united by the War on Terror?
Are we united by our hatred of Muslims?
Then there's the psychological component . . .
Are we united by love?
Or . . . are we united by hate?
Are we united by courage?
Or . . . are we united by fear?
Are we united by our optimism?
Or . . . are we united by our despair?
Here I believe is a really important question: Where does the rugged individualism which we see as the hallmark of a true American fit in?
How can we be united if we each have our own priorities and agenda?
Maybe we're not united at all.
Maybe it's all an illusion.
Maybe the United States of America is more like United Airlines, or United Van Lines. Catchy name but it doesn't really allude to any real or even imagined unity.
And speaking of huge corporations, maybe we are united as customers, shareholders and employees of the vast corporations which seem to run everything these days. We are the biologic modules of a sprawling corporate Gaia, united in our service to interlocking clusters of entrepreneurial entities.
Less abstract and more the stuff of day-to-day living . . .
Are we united by the automobile?
Are we united by television?
Are we united by smart phones?
Are we united by the internet?
Which makes me wonder . . .
Maybe we're just a bunch of lonely people who need to feel like we belong to something.
Or maybe not.