We live in divisive times when the ties that bind all of as Americans seem to have unraveled. Just when we have an apparent stronghold on what we believe define the principals in which the Founding Fathers had when America was conceived, we now stop short of looking beyond Republican Red or Democrat Blue in simple conversations between neighbors.
Headlines of news stories over the past few years paint a picture not at all like the one Emanuel Leutze had envisioned. Instead of Washington Crossing the Delaware, people chuckle over the prospect of the state of Montana being sold to Canada. The one million Americans who call Big Sky Country would surpass the more than 180 who crossed the northern border in 2017 to renounce their citizenship and escape to the Great White North. Silly news items that belong more on the satirical Daily News show than the Washington Post, but there they read. And, if not to make readers pause and laugh at such improbabilities, the preposterous has been observed more frequently as the divide between conservative and liberal grows ever wider.
Many of us are multi-generational Americans. We were born here. Our parents were born here. The dream of crossing over the ocean to find prosperity in America is often a parody. We never knew of a land with streets paved with gold. We went to school and begrudgingly learned of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and Abraham Lincoln reading by candlelight in a log cabin. But, growing up in America means learning to tear down our heroes. Washington may never have told a lie, but that story was. And, that poem written around the events of 1492 we’ve since learned could have been reserved for the Vikings who discovered America nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. In 50 years, we’ve gone from a future in plastics to our oceans chocked by plastics. Our faith in science and perceived progress in big corporations has left us jaded. For every Lee Iacocca pulling a company out from the dark is a Jeff Bezos vilified for not paying taxes. And, as loudly as we may voice our displeasure, we still pay towards our Amazon Prime accounts because prices for groceries seem to grow by the week.
Many of us have retreated back into the recesses of our private lives, retreating back to the safety of our families and holding on to the few touchstones that keep us sane despite the news and events surrounding us today. It’s as if we build ourselves a wall to prevent everything else from coming in. It only cultivates a cynical view of the world, and that’s not the kind of world that helped build this country out of dark times. It was not the dream our ancestors envisioned for us.
In 2017, more than 700,000 people became American citizens. People who purposely stake claim to a life best served here than where they came from. One of the thousands more to do the same this year is here in our own office. The effort to become a citizen was visible to us. The need to complete paperwork, the studying of our history and our government structure, was in front of our eyes. The irony, too, that we would likely fail that upcoming test if it were presented before us was not lost.
The stories of our streets paved in anything other than asphalt have stopped long ago, but there is a piece of this present-day storyline that can be passed on to Americans today. Lost in our colloquialism is the propensity to call our home ‘merica. It suggests an erosion, if not in just the name itself, then of the values in which we once took pride. Instead of laboring so hard towards defining ourselves as individuals we should recognize the concept that ties us all together. The one concept those 700,000 people work diligently towards grasping themselves. The idea that we are all Americans. The idea that we all reside within a country, called by its full name, is the United States of America. When we let go of that strand, it all becomes untied.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.