james@jameshanlonbooks.com patreon.com/jameshanlon

I’m (Relatively) Proud to Be an American

I wrote this a year ago, updated and expanded it because it still feels true.

I just can’t say that I’m 100% there anymore. At some point in my life, I’d have said yes enthusiastically. I was the first in my family to be born on U.S. soil, which means technically I could be President someday. I thought that was really cool as a kid. But living here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. has started to wear on me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate being here—despite many flaws, I love my country and (most of) the people in it.

But let’s be honest, there are some real assholes here. Tremendous, orange-tinted, eternally bullshit-spewing assholes. Believe me.

Yeah, we all know who I’m talking about. Sorry to put that image in your head, but it truly disgusts me that this man is our President and I wanted to share a bit of that feeling. He is the culmination of decades of corruption in this country. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

First, let’s go back to the beginning.

I was born the summer of 1989 in Redwood City, California. It was the year the Berlin wall fell. The year the Tianenmen Square protests in China became the Tianenmen Square Massacre. The year before the collapse of the USSR and the winding down of the Cold War. George Bush Senior took over for President Reagan, and started the War on Drugs that summer. Ted Bundy was executed. The Exxon-Valdez ran aground in Alaska. Disney World had its grand opening. The Michael Keaton Batman movie came out. I think that covers pretty much everything truly important.

Anyway, I was the second of four kids. I lived in California until I was four years old. We moved to Texas, where I grew up in what you’d probably call the middle class—family of six, stable home life, happy childhood, yada yada. My parents earned enough to buy their own business here in Austin and have been running it ever since.

My brothers and I went to a public elementary school right down the street from our house, close enough to walk or ride a bike. And every day in that school, we’d all stand up and put our right hand over our heart and say the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. If you went to school here, you’re probably already reciting it in your head. But for the uninitiated, it goes like this:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.

Complete with the random capitalized letters and all. I mean, come on—why don’t Liberty and Justice get one? #feminism am I doing this right?

It’s a bit spooky, the effect that these words have on me even now, as an adult. I loved my childhood, and this brings me right back there, standing up with the teacher and the other kids in my class, all of us just starting our day together with this weird, patriotic mantra staring up at a flag together.

To me, probably until early high school, there was a certain purity, a luster to America that I don’t see anymore. Or maybe I just couldn’t see what was really there and it revealed itself as I grew up. Either way, I used to have the sense that America could do no wrong, that our motives were always wholesome and worthy. We could trust that the people in charge generally had our interests at heart.

I really wish I had known better.

As a kid, those words in the pledge meant something to me. Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all. We were—all of us, the students, the teachers, the principal, the school district, the state, the whole country—working together for something pure and powerful and good.

But now I can hear the words ring hollow. I don’t see liberty and justice for all in this country. And looking back on our history, this is the way it’s been for decades now. The rich get richer, and the poor—well, we all heard what Bernie had to say, but I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t keep on saying it. Wealth inequality in this country is out of control and healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. Therefore, we should tax the truly rich, the top fraction of a percent of the population, more in order to solve our healthcare crisis.

2016 left behind in its wake a bunch of ifs, buts, and maybes. It could have been different, but it’s not. It’s 2018, and instead of the most popular politician in the country leading us forward, we have a raging hemorrhoidal asshole shitting all over everyone but his rich friends (which includes, for some reason, murderous dictators from multiple different countries).

But besides the problem of our President, America is locked in a perpetual cycle of War on Terror. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. Somalia. Yemen. Pakistan. In the name of eliminating terrorism, we’re actively bombing people in at least seven different countries around the world, killing civilians nearly every time, which only creates more terrorists. And we’re selling arms to countries like Saudi Arabia so they can bomb civilians too.

We started down this path before 9/11, but that was the main event that still defines our present. Here’s the venerable Hunter S. Thompson, from the day after the towers fell:

“Boom! Boom! Just like that. The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now ― with somebody ― and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerrilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.”

We’re still in Afghanistan. Still in Iraq.

And then there’s the War on Drugs filling our prisons. 1% of our population behind bars. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, and political donations (bribes) corrupting our democracy. For-profit prisons getting rich off taxpayers. Privatized healthcare sucking dry as many people as it can.

And motherfucking turtle-faced reptile-person Mitch McConnell. Actual lobster Neil Gorsuch is sitting in Merrick Garland’s stolen Supreme Court seat because of McConnell.

Damn, I really never wanted to care about politics. And as someone who wanted to be a writer because it was a good way of getting out of talking to people, the last thing I ever wanted was to be involved in public debate. I always felt like someone else who’s better at it would do something.

That’s the trap I guess we all fall into. But there is no one else. It’s just us.

You’ve got a voice. Speak up. Vote.

If you’re not registered, go do it right now: vote.gov

And ask your friends, your family, your co-workers, your teachers, everyone you can think of: Are you registered? No? You can do it right now: vote.gov

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