Sunday, November 10, 2013

Who Are We, Really?

One nation, under God,
With Liberty and Justice for all.
The end of the Pledge of Allegiance is part of American national mythology. It's something that a lot of people understand to be true. But for me, it raises a question. For a visitor to the United States, would it be at all evident that this were the case?

In my own experience, the United States, while certainly a single nation in the global geopolitical sense, doesn't come off as particularly unified. And neither to most the states, for that matter. Some of the rural Red states may appear to be somewhat homogenous, but even they have populations of people in them that would rather do things differently - they just aren't large enough to have any political clout. And across the nation as a whole, factionalism reigns. And there is a tendency, sometimes more open than at other times, for factions to press for the national interest to be a mirror of their own interests, at the direct expense of the interests of those outside of that faction.

As for under God, while the United States is ostensibly a Christian nation, again, I'm not sure that as a visiting observer, you'd conclude that the nation as a whole paid anything more than lip service to the idea of Christianity, or of a God that observed their actions, and would judge them on those actions.
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
While this quote is, almost certainly, bogus, I suspect that a lot of non-Christians would come to the same conclusion (perhaps with the help Christian defensiveness around it, which tends to be driven by the wording, which implies animosity).

Whether or not we've managed as society that practices Liberty and Justice for all of its members is also an open question. But again, I suspect that a visitor to the United States would conclude that we fall short. While some of this is certainly due to "whataboutism," the tendency of people in other nations to point to the shortcomings of the United States as a way of excusing the very real issues in their home nations, the fact remains that as an objective standard, Liberty and Justice for all is a very high bar - and one that it is often not politically expedient to strive for.

The common defense of this is a simple one: These things are hard, and, in very real sense, impossible to achieve, so holding people, especially an entire nation, to that standard is unrealistic and unfair. And there is some truth to that. But, from my vantage point, if we reframe the question to be would an outside observer conclude that we are sincerely striving for these things, I don't think the answer changes.

The modern United States tends to be, first and foremost, concerned with its affluence and security. This is, in my understanding, to be expected, and is not a failing. What stands out for me is the idea that these concerns are not legitimate enough to openly own up to.


rockettubes said...

You made an error when you posted:

"One nation, under God,
With Liberty and Justice for all."

Actually it is:

"One nation, under God, indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all."

Which kind of ties in with what you are saying about the divisiveness, after all.

On a tangent, as originally authored, it had previously read:

"One nation indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all."

But this was altered during the McCarthy era partly out of supposed fear of the "godless communists". So they basically "divided" "one nation indivisible" to put it "under God", which I've always found terribly ironic. But that's a topic for another discussion entirely. :)

Aaron said...

Ah, thanks for that. I should have looked up the text when I started.