I Am an American

Because the original location of this article is behind a pay wall website, I received permission from the author and publisher, Global Pulse Magazine.com,  to post it here in its entirety.  Thank you to both for their generousity.  I found this reflection a good one for all of us to take to heart ……Reyanna

By Fr Bill Grimm          March 8, 2016             Global Pulse Magazine on-line

I am an American.

Sometimes I say that with pride, as when recalling the principles of equality and human rights that underlie the nation’s political philosophy.

Sometimes I say it with awe, as I look on the country’s natural and human-made grandeur.

Sometimes I say it with gratitude, seeing America as a haven for people, including my own ancestors, who had to leave behind all that they knew and loved to escape poverty, oppression or violence. Sometimes I say it with hope for humanity as I see the descendants of people from many cultures and nations, some of them mutually antagonistic for centuries, united.

Of course, not all my feelings about my nationhood are positive. I feel shame when I recall that among the foundations of the United States are slavery and genocide against the original inhabitants and the lingering aftereffects of those sins.

I feel frustrated when the founding principles in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” are violated. I feel anger at those situations where the country has been a bully. I am embarrassed by the frequently ignorant self-righteousness shown toward other peoples and nations.

Lately, however, my dominant emotion is bewilderment. I am not alone in that. People including fellow Americans looking at the current campaigns for the presidency ask what is happening. How can ignorance, prejudice, bitterness, xenophobia, lies, childishness and pandering be such dominant factors in an electoral process? Of course, the United States does not have a monopoly on such factors, but people seem to expect better, or at least different, from America.

In fact, the phenomenon we see in the United States is a global one that unites groups of people who would be surprised, or even shocked, to find themselves lumped together.

It is reported that the major support for the more shocking or mystifying candidates for the American presidency comes from male Caucasian baby boomers who have a high school education. They grew up in the post-World War Two period of unprecedented prosperity and had every reason to assume that they would spend their whole lives as beneficiaries of growing prosperity.

There was an implicit bargain that said all they had to do was earn a high school diploma, serve time in the military and then come home to the sort of well-paid blue-collar work their fathers returned to after the Second World War.

They did all that, but things changed. The jobs moved overseas. The proportion of whites in the population dropped as the numbers of Latin American and Asian immigrants soared. A new economy required skills for which they were unprepared, skills often held by those who had not followed the path their fathers had trod, but had gone to university and avoided military service. Social relationships changed as the civil rights movement brought more black Americans into the mainstream. Feminism and new understandings of gender challenged old images of manliness.

The discontented men do not know for sure what happened, but from their point of view, they kept their part of the bargain, but were betrayed. They are confused and angry, and support the angriest voices in politics.

We are witnessing the same phenomenon around the world, though usually among younger people, people who could be the children or even the grandchildren of the disgruntled Americans. Perhaps that is because the implied promises of prosperity, security and a meaningful life were made two generations earlier in America.

Unemployed youths in North Africa whose “Arab Spring” has turned into new forms of the old oppression, or university graduates in China and India for whom there are no jobs would all be surprised to know that they are, in some ways, fellows with old men in the United States.

In his poem Harlem, the American poet Langston Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” He continues, “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? … Or does it explode?”

All over the world as dreams are not merely deferred, but destroyed, we are seeing that explosions of anarchic violence, whether with ballots or bullets, are more and more the result.

What can be done?

Clearly, no amount of angry effort, even if momentarily successful at the ballot box, is going to restore 1956 in the United States. The Americans whose resentments are dominating news of their country’s presidential election are probably doomed to living out their days in frustrated wrath over a sense of a betrayal they do not understand but deeply feel.

But what of the greater number of youth throughout the world who seem destined for a lifetime of frustrated dreams? It is likely to be one of the major problems of this century. Unless the world is willing to face the working out of their anger, something must be done. But what?

Politicians, educators and social scientists must devise means to fulfill, if even only partially, the dreams of youths who feel betrayed by a world that shows them opportunities while denying them those opportunities. There is no evidence as yet that such means have been discovered, let alone implemented.

Is there a role for religion in all this? Some frustrated youth turn to religion, notably Islam and Hinduism, as a way of finding identity, social power and worth. Christians, especially evangelicals in America, are using religion as a dubious support for their prejudices and fears.

What is needed is some way to encourage these people to look to their religious traditions not as reinforcement of their political and social predispositions, but as the bases for forming those opinions. It is not an easy challenge.

As we approach Holy Week, perhaps our reflections on Jesus’ way to the Cross should focus on how the destruction of the disciples’ hopes and dreams led to a deepened understanding of God’s loving presence with them in the midst of disaster and as an answer to that disaster. For that focus to happen, though, requires reflection on what the crisis really is, so that the church might understand the bad news against which it must present and be good news.

Father William Grimm, M.M., is publisher of ucanews.com and based in Tokyo.

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