Every time I popped onto Facebook last weekend, I was more and more encouraged and uplifted. I had heard the news on Friday of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. It took the whole course of that day for the reality of that decision to sink in. It felt like just last year when I was amazed and heartened by my own state, Minnesota, voting for marriage equality, and I never dreamed that something like Friday’s decision would happen any time soon. I figured it would take a couple more generations of bigoted folks to die off before there was a chance at getting nationwide marriage equality laws in place. After all, through all of the centuries of this country’s existence—and even through the Civil Rights Era and beyond—the gay community had seemingly made very few strides in terms of gaining mainstream acceptance and justice. But then Friday came, and BAM!!!! Just like that, this movement that felt like it had only just begun creeping its way forward suddenly took a quantum leap toward equality. As the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision gradually sunk in that day, I became increasingly grateful and emotional about it. It just felt so good that so many people who had been so long denied this institution that I, and so many others like me, take for granted in our heterosexual privilege, would finally be granted access to the club (or rather, that the “club” no longer existed). I was suddenly a big fan of the Supreme Court. And then the Facebook profile pictures started changing to include the rainbow overlay in support of the gay community. When I saw the first one, I was like, “Oh, that’s a cool image! I never knew YOU were an ally and a supporter of marriage equality. I like you better now!” And then they just kept on coming, one rainbow flag after another, from all corners of my Facebook community. Each one lifted my spirits a little more. Pretty soon, I was like, “Go, America!!!” It was one of those rare and awesome moments when I have been both proud of my country (for the decision) and proud of my countrymen and women (for the support of equality). We got it right!
I have always felt very proud to be an American. Growing up in the Cold War Era, patriotism and hatred of the “Evil (Soviet) Empire” went hand-in-hand. I grew up believing that we were definitely on the right side of that battle. My family was also crazy about the Olympic Games, so when the undermanned USA hockey team beat the mighty Soviets and won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, it was a defining moment in my childhood and probably the first clear memory I have of being proud of America. I guess that at that age, I likened the hockey team’s victory to a giant knockdown punch of Good over Evil. America, my country, was something to brag about in that moment.
I also believed the history books I learned from in elementary school. I blindly accepted the idea that we were the undisputed King of the World in all matters of commerce, ideas, and diplomacy. So I was a regular patriot, proud to live in the best country in the world. That wasn’t one event, though, but just a general pride. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the cold truth about the way we built this reputation and ascended to such heights (by taking the lands of indigenous people, killing those people, and building our industry on the backs of enslaved peoples, with little regard for the way we treated other countries and lands along the way). My childhood pride was of America the Concept.
So, what were the events that made me feel proud of America the Country? My country. Not just the concept of America—we all love the idea of Freedom and Opportunity and the like—or what an American person or persons (like a hockey team or a scientist) did, but what the country did. Or, more specifically, what the American government did.
When I look back to my childhood, beyond the Olympic Games of every four years, I remember being proud of my country for the space program and, particularly, the space shuttle missions. Remember how big of a deal those were when the shuttle was new? Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the launch on television. I was in awe of what they were doing, and the whole aura about it was cloaked in patriotism. America was, in my childish point-of-view, the only country in the world who did amazing things like this for the betterment of all humankind. We were the shepherd, and I loved being a part of that.
After childhood, I hate to admit that the moments of being proud of my government’s actions kind of dried up. With more of the veil lifted to my adult eyes regarding the reasons we really do what we do in the world—usually MONEY leading the way—it became more difficult to cheer for the good old USA in areas of diplomacy. No matter how hard the politicians tried to sell the many wars and “conflicts” we entered, I was disappointed in us for entering them. And I watched how we—as a people and in the three branches of government–were treating each other at home in terms of advancing our pillars of Liberty and Equality, and I was like the kid who grows up to see his hero wasn’t so heroic after all. I still loved and rooted for America the Concept, but the “We The People” America was seriously letting me down. As a sensitive idealist and optimist, I must admit that my feelings were being hurt the country that I loved so much.
I am happy to report, though, that the old Red, White, and Blue has begun to turn things around in my eyes in recent years. A story of redemption has begun to emerge out of all of the chapters of disappointment. It started with Presidential politics in recent elections. Yes, amidst that arena that is still basically a Gong Show to me and everyone else, my spirit has been lifted by the American people’s relative openness to candidates beyond just old, White guys. Whether or not I am a fan of theirs, I have been delighted to see the popularity of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton and their legitimate candidacies for our highest offices. The worm is turning, and I love that my six-year-old daughter has examples to look to in the biggest arenas of politics. I now believe that there will be legitimate female candidates on the ballot when it comes time for her to vote. Go, America!
The bigger source of pride for me in that arena, though, has been our—We the People’s—election of a Black man to the highest office in the land. Given where we have been in this country—and where we still are in a lot of ways—it was absolutely astonishing to me that we made that bold move as a country in 2008. Sure, I know that only half the country votes for the winner in these elections and that the other half often fiercely opposes, but the fact that we had a Black man right there in the arena (and that he actually won a majority of votes) speaks volumes about a collective shift that has begun to occur in the mind of America. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, I felt like America deserved a giant pat on the back on that election night in the name of racial progress. It was a big, big deal.
Then came last week and two Supreme Court decisions that really brought back some of that national pride from my youth. The first one confirmed the legality of the Affordable Care Act, which is our imperfect beginning to the journey toward assuring that all of our residents have access to health care. I know this issue is a polarizing one in our country—and, interestingly, also not on the radar at all for many people—but for me, it is an important one when it comes to national pride. With the rest of the world, at least conceptually, treating health care as the basic right that I think it should be, I have always been quite embarrassed that in America, health care was only for those who could pay for it. As someone who could not always do so, I remember the helplessness and desperation I felt when I was uninsured and mangled my thumb and wrecked my back. Though I know we are only at the beginning of this process, I am heartened by these first steps toward this basic decency. We can do it!
The other Supreme Court case, of course, was the same-sex marriage decision. In all ways, that just made me feel very good. Let LOVE rule, America!!! It struck me as a happy coincidence that it was the lead-in to Pride Weekend, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community. My wife was marching in the Pride Parade through downtown, and my heart felt so full (and relieved) for the entire community and its allies. My country had finally done right by them. I was marching in my own Pride Parade. Pride in America. We the People.
How about you? What makes you feel proud of your country? Open up your journal and examine your relationship with your government and your people. Are you typically more proud of them or more disappointed? Think back to your childhood. When did you feel that national pride? Compare that to your adulthood. Did you become jaded like me and aware of our collective shortcomings? What moments or movements have made you feel proud to be one of us? Inevitably, discussions such as this one end up being politically driven. As the hyper-liberal that I am, I can think the legalization of same-sex marriage is one of our most proud moments, and the ultra-conservative next to me can write her article about this being one of our most shameful moments. Where do you fall on this topic? What about the others I mentioned: issues around gender, race, and economics/health care? What other issues move your needle in terms of national pride or disappointment? Are they mostly political issues, or are there others, like my Olympic fever or space shuttle awe? Leave me a reply and let me know: When are you proud of America?