There is much talk these days, from both Republicans and Democrats about how "exceptional" America is (and always has been); about how we're "number one"; or, if we've slipped somehow, that we must reclaim our place as the "leading" country in the world.
Where is it written in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence that we're supposed to be "number one?" What difference does it make if the USA is number one -- in anything?
Maybe some politician, whilst milking the public cow, and just after having come from a thirty-five-thousand-dollar-a-plate dinner with his real constituents, makes a ringing speech about being "number one"; or perhaps some benighted fool from the Don't Tread on Me crowd puts on a three-cornered hat and screams about it at a town meeting.
But as those of us who have labored and lost -- and endeavored to keep our eyes open during the journey -- understand that striving to be number one in anything (except for brief periods and actual exceptional moments in our lives), is not a goal but an illness; hard on the heart muscle and poisonous to the soul. A lot of citizens, much later in our lives, came to know that it's generally more conducive to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be number two, or three; or, better yet, not to take a goddamn number at all.
We've worked hard for these rankings, and I say: USA! USA!! USA!!! (Sorry, I got carried away --Stars and Stripes in my blood).
No doubt, America is, and has been, special in many ways.
The spirit of Freedom and Democracy has, at times, shown gloriously in our history. The Civil War; the great union movements of the 19th and 20th centuries and social reforms of the Thirties; the fight against the Nazi's and the cultural/political revolutions of the Sixties --America at it's best. But still, all these luminous moments were tainted from the very beginning by great crime of slavery, the slaughter of the continent's native population and the fatal infection of materialism.
We are currently on the downside of the mountain, gaining speed daily on the way to the rocky bottom. You can call it Karma, or you can just say, as Balzac did -- and was quoted by Mario Puzo in his epigraph to The Godfather -- "Behind every fortune there is a crime". And of course, as every reader of old comic books and watcher of Fifties TV and movies knows... "Crime does not pay."
Obviously, this bit of questionable but widely believed folk-wisdom was not absorbed by the current gang of elected officials, judges and corporate pirates that run our country.
Maybe it was a purely false saying to begin with; mere propaganda, something the rich guys cooked up to keep us on the straight and narrow, pressing our ignorant, well-behaved noses to the grindstone.
We'll probably have to wait till the final chapter of history to see which way the moral arc is going to bend, but I can see one thing pretty clearly. This year is going to be one of those pivotal moments in the eternal struggle between equality and freedom on one side and injustice and oppression on the other.
By the end of this year, we will have seen two political party conventions poisoned by PACS. Every day brings its fresh excretion of fundamentalist misogyny and race hatred. And, on what should be the "better" side, our President smiles and eats hot-dogs with "the folks" while signing away what little remains of our constitutional freedoms. Meanwhile, the Occupy movement has put a spotlight on the corrupting influence of money in all areas of society and politics.
Yes, I do believe we are at one of those generational crossroads. When the new years arrives, this country will either be much further down the road to a fascist state or, with will-power, hard work and a lot of pain, we will have begun the great journey out of the dark woods our oldest, most pernicious beliefs.
Sixties types (like me) can talk passionately and even provide the occasional bit of wise counsel; we can make contributions and we can cast votes, but, as in every reforming episode of this struggle, going back millennia, it has to be young people who put their bodies on the line. The future of the country is out in the open air, on the streets...
Mike Feder © 2012
Mike Feder is an author and radio host. He can currently be heard on Sirius XM Left 127. His website is www.federfiles.com