This weekend SG and I went to see Sicko, the new Michael Moore doc. It’s entertaining, funny, and devastating. It left me with a powerful urge to vote many many people out of office; it left SG depressed and inquiring what it would take to move to England, France, or Canada (well, for a start, precious, I’d keep working on my French). Which led to a general discussion about cutting-and-running vs. staying and working, and thence to patriotism.
Patriotism is a vexed subject these days, when wearing a lapel pin or sporting a bumper sticker seems to be the outward sign of belonging to The Patriotic Club. Contrarian that I am, I don’t want to belong to that club, which really pisses me off, because I do, in fact, love this country. I love its physical self–those purple mountains majesty, the rivers and plains and the cities (okay, I particularly love cities, and I particularly love New York, but America has a bunch of very cool cities). I love its promise, and I love the times when it lives up to that promise. But I don’t like the lapel pins and bumper stickers that suggest that you can only love your country if it’s perfect, and therefore it must be perfect. I don’t much care for the equal-but-opposite thesis: that if America has flaws it cannot be lovable, and must therefore be hated and disparaged. I’m big for the middle ground, see, and it so often seems like the middle ground is a shrinking piece of real estate in this country.
Years ago I ran for office in SFWA (insert sucker joke of choice here) and said that I thought the organization is a great idea that sometimes lives up to its promise. That’s what I feel about America: more than anything else, this country is a great idea, but it’s an idea that is still being worked out. Since the folk working on it are human, it’s going to take a long long time, with patience and humor and outrage and forgiveness–come to think of it, many of the attributes you need in parenting could be said to be necessary for citizenship, too. When your kid does something spectacularly stupid, you don’t stop loving her no matter how much you detest the behavior. You stop or change the behavior. This is why the school of despair approach bothers me: despair licenses you to give up, which ensures that nothing’s going to get any better.
So I’ve told SG that we’re not moving to France or Great Britain or Canada, despite the moronic way we handle health care in this country. We’re not moving somewhere else just because the current administration appears to be intent on looting the financial and the legal and moral currency of the country. This is my country, dammit. I am horridly lazy, and probably don’t do enough to try to reclaim it from the Bad People, but every day I try a little harder. If I move somewhere else, the Terrorists (and I don’t mean the 9/11 conspirators) will have won.
Vote. Recycle. Volunteer. Read the news, even when it’s depressing. Talk. Ask questions. Remember what you love about America and hold on to it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes; be afraid of becoming so rigid that you can’t correct those mistakes. Be romantic and hard-headed about this nation, which was founded by hard-headed romantics who actually believed in Man’s better nature. Bear witness. Capture the flag.