Proud to be an American again”¦for a while

Connor Guy

As a country, we can’t figure out what to think of ourselves. In our eyes, we’re either the best thing that’s ever happened to the world, or we’re a “sick fucking country,” as the movie Three Kings put it. When we think about the United States of America, it’s either this shining beacon of hope, freedom and liberty, or it’s the country that stole virtually all of its land from Native Americans, enslaved millions upon millions of Africans, turned a blind eye to the Holocaust and today self-righteously polices the world.

This divide is certainly physical, in one sense at least. It seems cliché to say this, but some people in America see this country less accurately than others: people, for instance, who are too blinded by dogmatic and hateful ideologies to assess themselves truthfully. At any given time, these people will tell you about all the great things president Bush is doing with our country, while others, taking a somewhat less “optimistic” stance, will tell you all about Guantanamo bay, the lies on which our war in Iraq was based, etc.

But this divide between our glassy-eyed, optimistic self-assessments and our dark brooding ones is more often a function of time. As a country, we look at ourselves both with Nixon’s pessimism and Kennedy’s optimism. We ride the highs and we dig the lows as the times and the presidents change, but it seems difficult for us to strike a balance between the two.

Why is this? Why can we just not seem to combine the good with the bad to produce an accurate, sober conception of this place called America?
Unsurprisingly, this has occurred to me just as a new and notoriously optimistic president has taken office. Obama’s election and inauguration has (especially at Whitman) radically transformed our self-image. On election night, I heard one too many people say, “I’m proud to be an American again.”

In just a few months, a country obsessed with self-criticism has become a country obsessed with the audacity of hope.

But last month, Seattle newspaper The Stranger printed an article called “Your 15 Minutes Are Up,” which listed predictions of “the people, institutions and ideas” they believe won’t make it through 2009. Second on the list: Obamamania.

“Aw, you’re a lefty who LOVES Barack Obama,” the article reads. “He’s your savior, you’re a cliché, and that doesn’t bother you a bit.”

The Stranger’s impulse to hold back a little, to not fall head-over-heels for Obama and optimism, is, I think, a prudent one. With Bush gone, it seems like everyone’s coming out as closet America-fans. We get a better president and all of the sudden we’re proud to be Americans again?

The difference between these two important men is great, and it should spark a huge ideological shift in America, but it should not change how a country perceives itself this much. Our president can change in a day, but our country and its shady history can’t.