America for Me

(10-20 August 1990) after Henry Van Dyke

Do I love America? What is America? The president and his hypocritical posturing? Million-dollar bonuses for execs of failing companies? Draining mountain lakes to grow grass in the desert? Clear cutting ancient forests to delay losing jobs? Banning DDT at home but sending it abroad? Storing nuclear waste in rusting cans? Exaggerating our enemies’ sins until they resemble our own? A nation that has murdered its natives? A nation that forgets? A nation that wants to be entertained? A nation whose culture is owned by corporations? A people that pays more for its dogs than for its fellow human beings? Would I leave it? I would leave the land of the cheap burger, the land of chemical lettuce, the land of automobile accidents, the land of decaying trains and buses. I would not leave the land of the Choctaw or Aleut. I would stay among mountains without roads, or even three trees alone in a corner. I love lakes, forests, glaciers, streams. I would not leave the islands of the otter and the whale. I would leave the islands of the oil spill, the land of the atomic bomb, the land where everything has its price. I would not leave the land of the intellectual, the dancer, the artist, the musician, the poet. I praise the land of the small press, the little theater, the local gallery. I would leave the land of organized sports and organized gambling. I would leave the land of the lottery, a trap for those who hope. I’ve lost my faith in the American way, just as I’ve lost my faith in reason. You can find a reason for anything. Politicians find reasons to lie like thieves who find reasons to steal. Children find reasons to disobey; parents find reasons to be brutal. Friends find reasons to cheat; the stranger’s reason is being a stranger. Millions of citizens don’t need a reason; they forget their worries by drinking, distraction, destroying, going into debt. Where would I go? The barbarity of nations is the barbarity of the crowd. America for me is where I was born and raised. Yes, I’m subject to instinct. I want a home in the suburbs with a lawn and a two-car garage, a wife and two spoiled kids to be proud of. I believe you can succeed by hard work; I believe that change is inherently good; I believe you can keep good people if you pay enough; I believe the good can win in the long run; I believe in technology and analysis; I believe in progress; I believe in trying. I want America to be the best it can be. How could I leave it now?