This weekend’s genuinely patriotic American is you.
The problem with what I called (in Monday’s post) the “easy” version of American patriotism, the version that asks us to pledge allegiance, stand for the anthem, say “God Bless America” at the drop of a hat, and so on, is not that everybody can do it. The problem, as I see it, is that everybody can do it without much effort at all (other than the rote performance of those kinds of rituals), and certainly without thinking or critical engagement with complex questions and narratives, with defining debates over our ideals and our realities. The problem, in short, is that it’s easy—and, to quote from one of my favorite moments in American literature (a line from the culminating section of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony ), “The only thing is: it has never been easy.”
So this is where you come in—you American Studiers, whoever and wherever you are. (And I should note that we’re working to create some sort of Guest Book for the website, because I really would love to know more about who and where you are—and in the meantime, please feel free just to introduce yourself in the comments!) If I could highlight one goal for my work on this site, I’d say the same thing that I’d say for my published writing and works in progress, for my work with students, for my work in the Adult Learning class this past winter, for everything I do these days as a professional and public scholar: to help people engage more fully, with more complexity, with our American histories and stories, our national identity and community. While of course I have my own ideas and arguments about those topics, at the end of the day I promise that I’m not trying to get everybody to buy into them—I can’t imagine a better America, in fact, than one in which we can all debate these questions, from positions of knowledge and engagement, of passion and empathy, of civic responsibility and personal stakes.
My guess, without knowing many of you personally yet (and again—introduce yourselves, please!), is that we’re all on the same page here. So the next step is to extend these efforts, to share these goals and ideals with more and more of our fellow Americans (and American Studiers everywhere). Am I asking you to send your friends and loved ones to this blog?? Maybe a bit. But mostly I’m just asking you to have these conversations, to do this work, in your ways and communities with your own voice, that is and will continue to be so crucial to our American future. I know it won’t be easy—it never has been—but I can’t imagine anything more important, nor more patriotic.
More next week,
PS. Any thoughts? Any patriotic Americans you’d nominate?
4/21 Memory Day nominees: A tie between John Muir, to my mind the single most inspiring and significant American naturalist; and Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun and anti-death penalty activist whose inspiring life and work was captured so well by Susan Sarandon.