I have been re-reading Tennyson a great deal lately and "Ulysses" inspired me to write something not remotely sarcastic (for once). By the way, it is said that Ulysses is a gateway drug to other more adddictive poems.
"...It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are -
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." - By my dear Alfred T
What is an American?
Stop any person on the street and they will tell you their own version of what it means to be an American, perhaps accurately, but mostly not. Some might say that being an American means wearing the US flag as a lapel pin. Others might say that in order to be defined as an American, one must attend the right church and be the right type of Christian. Still others will tell you that supporting the troops and, above that even, supporting the President is what makes one American.
Some might even venture that being born in this country or of parents who are citizens of this country is surely enough. On this last point there is some truth, but only in terms of rights, not responsibilities. As such, it presents only half of the equation.
You are an American
On the day that I became a citizen of this country, after a long bureaucratic process of filing documents upon documents, attending interviews upon interviews, and taking tests upon tests, I said an oath of loyalty and allegiance to the one thing that makes all of us American:
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…"
The oath I took in order to earn my right to be an American is strikingly similar to the oath taken by others who, while born here, still must make this obligation formal in order to serve the country, represent the citizens, and enforce the law:
Congress: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.."
The President: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.".
Military: "I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…"
These examples - although all oaths of duty and/or service to the country are written in much the same way - stipulate that only the Constitution be defended and adhered to, not even the country itself is mentioned outside of its subservience to that principle.
No oath of office or obligation of duty demands that a particular political party be supported, preserved, defended, protected, and adhered to -- because no political party defines what an American is.
No oath of office or obligation of duty demands that a particular ideology, be it secular, religious, and/or political, be supported, preserved, defended, protected, and adhered to -- because no ideology defines what an American is.
Most importantly, no single person or group of people are elevated above the Constitution and the rule of law, no matter what their role is in our society.
These public declarations of loyalty are simply a reiteration of each citizen's duty, declared or held in private, but duty nevertheless.
Our duty - as citizens - to the Constitution transcends every other point of disagreement that every person and/or every group of people can have with one another, no matter how deeply felt.
Watching our entire country implode under the self-serving ideologies of those so eager to claim everything but the Constitution as their guide leaves at least half of us without a home, the at least half of us who are Americans.
We may live on the same land, but our nation and the citizens of that nation have been exiled into a national wilderness.
You Are Not An American
Those of us who understand our duty to the Constitution also understand that the current leadership of this nation and the followers of that leadership are merely land dwellers either lost in a world of symbols or are purposefully cloaking themselves in our symbolic garb.
These land dwellers or homelanders claim allegiance to the flag (the symbol) and yet are willing to dismantle the Constitution (the reason) for that allegiance.
They support the President (the symbolic representative of the nation), but not the duty of the Office (the reason for the President).
The homelanders, be they Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim, etc., claim their Americanism with incredible fervor and rabid acts of misguided citizenship. They do not comprehend the simplicity of the equation, the "either/or" of the argument.
Unfortunately, the impasse we have arrived at is the final barrier, which if crossed, destroys any prospect of a future America. We can no longer sit down and address this as simply an issue to work through.
Either you are an American because you place the Constitution above your own personal values or you are not an American precisely because you downgrade the Constitution as subservient to your personal values.
There is no middle ground on this, simply, as by virtue of the way our system of government has been defined and is supposed to be governed by.
There is no olive branch to pass that would allow for a compromise on the Constitution as that which must be defended and adhered to - by compromising on that principle we would eliminate the very principle itself.
You either uphold your obligation to the Constitution or you are not a citizen.
You either take your oath of office, service, and duty, seriously or you step down/removed from your position.
Politics has nothing to offer here.
This is not an argument that belongs in the political sphere -- perhaps in a philosophical sphere, but not in the dirty business of politics. This is not a religious principle or market oriented debate. There is no middle or center or compromise on something as basic as the infrastructure of our government, the basis for our entire legal system, and the only thing that has ever defined what being an American is.
When president Bush said "you are either with us or you are against us" there is no doubt in my mind he was speaking more to the domestic audience than to the foreign one. More and more of the Bush doctrine of "you-Americans" against "us-Homelanders" becomes evident in the faces of law abiding citizens turned into victims for doing lawful things.
Mothers of fallen soldiers gathering to grieve together are infiltrated by military units, so that the "with us" crowd does not have to explain why the mothers are grieving.
Citizens who happen to be of a particular ethnic background are picked up of the streets for no other reason than the color of their skin and put into detention camps, without trial and without due process, so that the "with us" crowd can provide proof of an enemy to the "you-Americans" crowd.
People who peacefully oppose and protest being poisoned and having to live in toxic environments are monitored and in some cases arrested, so that the administration's financial backers don't have to talk about the poison they make money on.
If you can defend the flag and yet allow for these types of abuses, then you are not an American. It is that simple. No amount of national plumage of red, white, and blue could ever cover that type of failure to civic and national duty.
Pick the symbol only if you pick the reason for that symbol as well. The reason for the symbol is what gives it its enduring power, nothing else can. Choosing the symbol alone will never work and has never worked, as the annals of history filled with symbols of long forgotten realities show us.
We have reached a place in our national history where too many crimes have been committed against the Constitution, which is and has been our only true moral compass as Americans.
Many of us have taken the bait tossed out by those in power who wish to divide us by using our individual faith, our ethnic background, our deepest fears, and our most basic values against us - to divide us so we are standing face to face, not shoulder to shoulder. We have left the lighthouse un-attended while we rush off to our own dreams and our own plans.
It is time for each of us to define ourselves in the most basic of terms and decide what side of the aisle, the real aisle, we are really on. There is no individual argument, value, faith, and/or principle that can supercede the Constitution with regard to one’s duty to this country.
If you believe your own agenda supercedes the tenets of the Constitution with regard what it means to be a citizen of this nation, then you are not American. It is that simple really. Whatever you are, you claim no honest privilege to the title of an American, and as such you have no place in our national discourse or our national identity – But unfortunately, you do live on our land, in the physical boundaries of our country, and you do masquerade in our national identity.
As long as the Constitutions is subjugated and undermined by the charlatans who have taken root in every facet of our lives, we - real Americans - are rendered landless, homeless, and lost-- hovering somewhere above the land mass that used to house our nation. We cling to the real power behind the thrown - the Constitution - as our beacon on the propitious journey back home and we do so regardless of our petty differences.
Perhaps one day we will have a country under out feet again. For now, Americans, stranded as we may be and living on a map of a country that no longer exists, can at least hope against hope that our exile will not be for long. We can hope perhaps too, that the damage done by the current custodians of our land will be reparable.