How are you? We’re fine up here. I’ve been looking at the news coming from your part of the world lately, and it’s beginning to trouble me a bit. As a Canadian, I, along with millions of your citizens, felt hopeful that the Obama administration would be able to pull you out of the morass you found yourselves in – a morass created by the subservience of previous administrations to the dual addictions of profit and power. I was under no illusions that November 5 would dawn on a country where everything was fixed, nor did I believe that 6 months, even a year, would be enough to enact real change. Nevertheless, I continue to keep an optimistic outlook on your future.
The strength of your culture has always come from the “melting pot” philosophy that was the guide for the many to unite into the one – everyone, regardless of origin, was an American, dedicated to the continued prosperity of the nation. It was the best example of a shared value – an ideal, of course, never achieved but at least remaining as a spiritual goal of the country. It was shared values that brought you together in the first place, united the first thirteen colonies, and continued until America was the world’s last superpower. Much of the strength and unity that was built was a result of perceived external threats; competing ideologies like Nazism or Communism that united you in opposition to an external threat. The problem is that there is currently no external threat that can compare to entire ideologies as represented by discrete nations or united movements. In physics, it is accepted that energy doesn’t ever go away, it just goes somethere else, and that is what has happened to the once-great beacon of liberty. In the absence of unified or concrete opposition, the energy that defined by opposition had to go somewhere, and, unfortunately, it has turned inward.
The conservative element in America has always been there, and they look upon particular times in your history as ‘golden ages’, times that were better than now, primarily because America was united, was strong, and had shared values (keep in mind, however, that these were rarely, if ever, golden ages for anyone beyond white males, but it is to be expected if that is the group that is reminiscing). The population went from “Russia? We’re not like them!”, to being unable to define themselves through opposition. Who’s next on the list? The people within your own country who disagree with you: “My neighbors, I’m not like them!” It’s always easier to define something by what it is not, and American culture is no exception.
Sadly, America, your citizens are just as proficient at creating divisions as they are at justifying them, in order to create a sense of identity. They dig in their heels and refuse to hear other opinions, because it takes them outside of their comfort zone, violates their own vision of their identity, so inextricably bound up is that identity in the persona of “America the Beautiful”. For the purposes of simplification and ease of rationalization, there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘victim’ and ‘victor’. There is no grey, just the heavily fortified extremes of the emotional spectrum. When people stop listening to one another, they stop learning, when they stop learning, they stop maturing, and when they stop maturing, they feel as if their own opinions are the only ones worthy of respect. In the country of the self-centred, the most selfish man is king.
I could go on at length (and I have) about the motivating factors behind the polarized and increasingly violent culture that has evolved: religion; political ideology; profit; race; gender identity and so on, but that isn’t necessarily the important thing – zeroing in on one or two background motivations is not the purpose of this letter. What is the purpose of this is to decry the dangerous combination of a lack of respect and an extreme, almost allergic sensitivity to criticism or even simple disageement. Your media isn’t helping (I’m looking at all of you, not just picking on Fox) by feeling and acting on the ‘necessity’ to amp up the emotion in everything to the detriment of the actual sharing of information that could empower the populace and nurture debate – is it a reflection of the extreme form of the current culture, or one of the root causes? I think it’s probably best not to look too closely at that chicken/egg scenario right now, this letter is already too long as it is.
So, America, my southern cousin, what do I suggest? I thought you’d never ask.
Respect is the number one suggestion I have. It is obvious that many Americans hold opposing views on health care reform, for example, but it shouldn’t be necessary to have armed police present at town hall meetings. Everyone needs to feel as if they are being listened to, and their opinions understood and respected. As an additional benefit, this is kryptonite to the radio and television hate mongers inhabiting your airwaves – fairness and respect are difficult to criticize. Paradoxically, my other suggestion, this one to your leaders, is that they currently have the power to make things happen, to make bold and historic strides, to make your citizens healthier and more prosperous – use it. The outreach program that preached inclusion is obviously not working. Learn from others who have had the hand of conciliation slapped away enough times to understand that cooperation is neither wanted nor realistic. Listen to the concerns of the public, take note of the feelings and desires of the populace, as befits a democracy, but ultimately, you must use the mandate given to you to enact solutions that are feasible, affordable, and create the most benefit. Your leaders have already stumbled, but that shouldn’t stop you from moving forward – we are all meant to learn from our mistakes, and your leader is particularly intelligent. Do what you can, for the benefit of the majority, because you can. The political benefits can be great, but the benefits to your society will be greater and more long-lasting. In short, defuse the emotional cries with understanding, defeat the hatred with respect, but ultimately, steer the ship as your people have chosen you to do, despite stormy waters ahead.
All this, of course, is my opinion. I share it with you because I look at you and see the potential for greatness, or renewed greatness, inherent in you. I would hate to see that potential go to waste because of internal disruption or, in the worst case, catastrophic partisan violence. Yer a good country deep down, and I know you mean well, but now is the time to act before this goes any further. You have been a good neighbor so far (I’m overlooking that whole 1812 thing for now), and it makes me sad to see you in such despair.
The sooner you all realize that your goal, a greater and more prosperous America, is the same, and you can all agree that the benefits of peace are more deireable than those of conflict, the easier it will be to bring America closer to her ideal. Naive? Probably, but sometimes things just need to be said. I feel better for having gotten this off my chest. I’m looking forward to continuing our friendship for a long time to come.
All the best,
P.S.: Stop picking on our health care. Seriously, it’s really pissing some of us off. It’s not perfect, but it’s ours, and for the most part, it works. Knock it off.