Tag Archives: american myth

Red, White and Orange

red-white-and-orange-donald-trump

Smeared across my smart-phone’s news app are multiple and varied images of an angry face, puffy and twisted.  It has a mouth to rival any hemorrhoidal rear end, puckered and tight.  Atop its coral-hued puffy visage rests a swathe of dubious flocculence that reminds me of the gnarled fox/stole that hung in my grandmother’s closet.  I recoil in terror.

You know who I am talking about and maybe appreciate the visual allusions.  Perhaps you even chuckle.  To be fair, I didn’t know what “flocculence” meant either until I discovered it in the thesaurus (“resembling wool especially in loose fluffy organization”).

The feces that erupts from this Orange Pustule’s mouth on a daily basis is nothing short of sickening.  The things he says about women, immigrants, Blue Star families, veterans, the electoral system, African Americans, the physically disabled, tax-payers, the tax system, Muslims, beauty queens and crying babies are nothing short of disturbing. I am appalled, offended, shocked, embarrassed, and queasy.  But I am also deeply, deeply saddened, because I live in a country that has granted such an individual the loftiest of platforms from which to spew his diarrhetic hate-speak.

Given America’s propensity for self-exultation this is hardly surprising.  It is, after all, a country built upon many a myth of its own superiority, irrespective of fact.  American Exceptionalism.  American Bravado.  American Might.  These myths are fed by a constant stream of grandiose gesture and boastful talk:  “The biggest”, “the most”, “the freest”.

We hear it in the political speeches of our politicians but also in the day-to-day speech patterns of our friends and families.  “The greatest country in the world.” “The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.”  America is a country where the superlative expression of its inalienable rights has become an inalienable aspect of its demeanor.  I talk (the loudest), therefore I am (American).

flags-banner

The Orange Pustule is arguably the epitome of what it means to be American in this day and age: a bloated gas-bag of crass soundbites fighting to maintain a sense of mythical former glory. His double-down tactics of aggressive self-assertion are merely a reflection of Americans who themselves cannot back down from who they imagine themselves to be, getting progressively louder and more insistent that this is what it means to be American.  And enough people love it to put him within striking distance of speaking (yelling, bragging, threatening, attacking, leering, insulting, condemning) for the entire country.

This poisonous smear of a man has commandeered the American sense of self, baptizing it in his narcissistic cesspool of fury. If things are not “the best” then they are undeniably “the worst”, and no amount of Blue-hued politicians emphatically reminding us that things aren’t that bad is going to dissuade us from this apocalyptic view. He has taken the social/economic/security issues that this country contends with (much like any other country) and decried them as nothing short of a disaster. The only answer to such woes is to annihilate anything and everything in our path, with the Orange Pustule leading the way to salvation. It is yet another American myth, that of the lone-wolf standing up to the establishment and all the direst of evils it embodies. How we lap it up.

The truly sad thing is that I’m not sure we know who we are otherwise.

How do we redefine ourselves if the myths we built our lives on have proven to be misguided?  How do we retreat from the brink of insanity (or maybe we’ve passed that brink) and reimagine a different America, one humbled and in check with reality?

Maybe we can’t. Maybe this is the dying gasp of a nation that needed to scream that it was “the greatest” more than it needed to listen and address its needs. Or maybe this is merely a rite of passage, a time when Americans must rage like adolescent children against all the unfairness and disappointments of life only to calm down, apologize for bad behavior, and finally become adults.

smashed-orange

Ichabod and the Guns of Freedom

Let’s talk about guns.  It’s all the rage.  Everyone is doing it.  Hand guns, assault rifles, high capacity magazines. It’s very exciting and a quick “gun store online” Google search yields a bounty of “Shoot now pay later!” results (179 million).  So many choices.  So much to discuss.

It’s all very American to be sure, this ultimate freedom of ownership, freedom being the big issue.  Google “Freedom in America” and you get a whopping 1 billion plus results.  Compare it to “Freedom in the UK’ (483 million), “Freedom in France” (106 million), or “Freedom in Syria” (88 million) and you see a clear disparity.  Granted, these are not scientific results, but like it or not Google has become the measure by which we quickly evaluate a topic’s worth.

Gun ownership inevitably comes up in any discussion of freedom in the US, umbilically linked to what it means to be American.  Guns are part and parcel of the American myth, wrapped up in the entrepreneurial, brash, optimistic if a tad naïve and lacking in history, image of Americans that is stereotypically upheld by others.

But myth, as we all know, is not fact.

Myth, as metaphor, exists to teach us how to live in, and make sense of, the world.  Creation myths provide an existential sense of security, regardless of whether the world was created in 6 days by some almighty being (Judeo-Christian), is a result of Father Sky and Mother Earth being pried apart by a frustrated son (Maori), or the product of a turtle’s mud-covered back (Iriquois).  Other myths offer caution.  The Greeks are particularly notable in this, with everyone from Icarus to Prometheus warning us to behave.

America as Icarus - A reinterpretation of Bruegel's "De Val Van Icarus"

America as Icarus – A reinterpretation of Bruegel’s “De Val Van Icarus”

But if myths exist to show us the path, how does the American myth navigate today’s world?  The Asian Century is upon us.  America seems culturally irrelevant, barely worthy of note to our friends in the east save as a cheap shopping destination (fire sale at that!).  And what do we do?  We talk about guns, although who can blame us?  We do live in the shadow of many a brave soul known for their conquering nature.  And what are guns if not a symbol of our subjugation of others?  Be it Daniel Boone, Paul Revere, or George Custer, their myth is one of utter defiance, be it of nature, government, or even people.

It appears, though, that we have become slaves to this mythology, blindly clutching at something that has lost its relevance.  I propose a new myth, of my own creation.  In this tale a gun-toting Ichabod builds a wall around himself, built entirely of firearms.  He calls his wall Freedom and protects it from all who dare approach.  As his wall grows, so declines Ichabod’s sense of others, for they are obscured by his dedication to his own freedom.  Finally, Ichabod is crushed as his self-imposed prison collapses, barely noticed by the rest of the world that has long since moved on.

This, I fear, is what is happening as we rage on about our freedoms and liberties.  We toss these terms around, hell bent on protecting the tired catch phrases of the past rather than committing ourselves to a healthy future.  All this talk about 2nd amendment rights, civil liberties and what our founding fathers meant is so mired in yesteryear as to be profoundly un-American.  I thought this was a nation of innovators and forward thinking individuals.  So what’s this obsession with the past?  And why must we cling to outdated ideas simply because the constitution and its amendments say so?  No wonder the country is stagnating.

Perhaps the American myth can be saved, though, simply by recognizing the mythical industrious nature of Americans, that is the power to reinvent.  Isn’t that what has driven countless immigrant to these illustrious shores, myself among them?  Reinvention, rather than blind steadfastness, is the key to progress.  China did it.  Korea did it.  Other countries would be advised to follow suit, the US among them.  But alas the US is not a follower.  Or maybe that’s just another myth that needs debunking (oh Kyoto Protocol, where art thou?).

Yet as we scuffle in the ashes of a defunct world-view should we not recognize that this too has its base in myth.  Something about a bird, I think.  And fire.  And rebirth.