To hear some politicians speak, it seems as though our country is no longer divided into just red or blue. In debates over health care reform, the economy, the war in Afghanistan and many other issues, the citizens of this country fall into one of two camps: American and un-American.
The latter group looks much like our favorite evangelist, Jesse Morrell’s list of sinners — including, but not limited to, fornicators, masturbators, Obama voters, homosexuals, Buddhists, Muslims, drunkards, feminists, Democrats, liberals, evolutionists, atheists and potheads. Yalies take note: It looks like many of us have a place in an un-American hell. If you want to earn recognition as a member of the good American camp, you should probably become a flag-waving, heterosexual, conservative, Christian suburbanite. More importantly, you should believe that all members of the un-American group are teaming up to turn the United States into Amsterdam, governed by Swedish socialism.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with having the qualities that supposedly characterize a good American. My concern lies in the fact that many seem to believe that those are the only qualities that render someone worthy of recognition as a patriotic, upstanding citizen.
Somewhere between creating a country that could serve as a beacon of freedom and haven for the oppressed and trying to ensure that all citizens can afford their mortgages and see a doctor when they are sick, the description of those who exemplify the American ideal has lost some key tenets.
Whatever happened to prizing ingenuity, diversity and a willingness to push boundaries?
American values should exist separately from ideology. A good American, and a defender of our national ideals, should be defined not by a commitment to a particular party, but by an aversion to standing down in the fight for one’s beliefs and a willingness to seek creative solutions to bring about desired change.
Interestingly, the gatekeepers of the good American camp seem to be the ones best embodying this aspect of the American ideal. I’m talking about the group that claims that those pushing for universal health care will turn the U.S. into a socialist dictatorship. The ones that say gay marriage advocates want to destroy the entire institution of marriage and who argue that the scientists who proved climate change are liars. The Tea Partiers.
I do not agree with their politics; the over-abundance of American flags on their apparel makes me itch; and I despise Sarah Palin. But message doesn’t matter when it comes to being American — it’s the way it’s spread. And the Tea Partiers are a group of people that created a grassroots movement to protest what they view as a problem with government policy. They appealed to like-minded citizens and banded together to make change. While the Democratic Congress remains stalled and the Left fails to unite around even a moderate party-line, members of this new movement sip tea and gain followers with a fervor.
Admittedly, this group has capitalized on what I feel is an unfair characterization of what it means to be American, claiming that they are “Protecting American Values” (as the poster that inspired this column read). But when we put aside their narrow definition of a good American, we see a group that got creative and showed that committed individuals can have more influence than those politicians we sent to Washington to be influential.
If that isn’t the type of action that exemplifies our country’s ideals, I don’t know what is.
Jessica Shor is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.