When I was in junior high school, Veterans’ Day and other patriotic holidays were celebrated by, among other things, playing Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” over the PA system.
I hated that song. Still hate it. The thing is, I don’t hate it because I’m not proud to be an American. I hate it because it cheapened the pride I do have. Because it turned what should have been a considered, thoughtful approach to one’s country into a knee-jerk response, echoed the line that I always heard as defensive and whiny: “at least I know I’m free.” (Also, it was one hell of an earworm, and back then I hadn’t learned the trick of humming ABBA to get a song out of one’s head.)
I admit that a lot of this was the result of being in junior high, when anything I didn’t like had to be awful and why couldn’t anyone else see that I was right? But my dislike of the song remained. And I thought about it a lot this last year, particularly when Michelle Obama got excoriated for her (perfectly innocent, I thought) remark that she was finally proud of her country. It seemed that unthinking pride was somehow supposed to be better than the sudden realization that there was a cause worth fighting for.
For the obvious reasons, I’m remembering all that today. Over the last few years, I’ve been ashamed of what’s been done in my name as an American. That won’t go away because we have a new president. But now I’m also proud of where we are, of who represents us in the world, and what we can do.
Being proud to be an American doesn’t mean that I can sit back and bask in how awesome we are. It means that I have to work to make this country what we hope it can be — and if something goes wrong, if this administration or, in four or eight years, the next administration, wonks up badly, then I don’t get to throw up my hands and say well darn, I tried, what’s on tv?
We’ve had enough of despair. Time to work to make something to be proud of.