The evolving context of American citizenship, as seen through the eyes of a thoughtful, elder American, can puzzle and elude his discernment and best comprehension. It has so morphed in his lifetime, that, at times, he has the sense of being a stranger, or, perhaps, an “immigrant” in his own native country.
(N.B. It is felt that we have commented sufficiently, on our views concerning the dehumanizing impact of electronic social interaction and automation. Additionally, in a recent essay, “Remembering Radio,” we made certain observations on the changing role, status and relationship of the family. We felt that it might be thought-provoking and useful, to express some personal thoughts and observations on our observed major changes in the general perception of American citizenship.)
It was not that many decades ago, that the words to “America the Beautiful,” were not merely the words of a patriotic song, but a description of the communally maintained image of the American citizen. The salute to the flag, performed at school and public events was observably, recited with feelings of national pride and meaningful enthusiasm. World War-2 saw a solidly unified Nation, assisting its country’s war effort in every way possible. Citizens, concerned about America’s progress in the war, bought war bonds and stayed closely tuned to the latest relevant radio news reports. Children, after school, collected scrap iron, rubber and other designated, discarded items for the war effort. America’s subsequent victory over the Axis Powers was a memorable event, universally and jubilantly, celebrated by all American citizens.
The decades rolled on, some more tranquil than others. The special nexus between Nation and citizen, fortunately, seemed to overcome the profound fractures in the body politic, during the Nixon and Viet Nam War eras. Political differences between fellow citizens, over the many years, were distinct, but socially tolerated. The “Left,” most often identifying with multiculturalism, relativism, environmentalism, governmental regulation and welfare; the “Right,” with Christianity, tradition, “family values,” and social conservatism.
Our best recollection is that, in the not-too-distant past, it was commonplace to hear American citizens observe, that while American politicians were polarized, its citizens were not. This, significantly, and regrettably, was prior to the advent of the two impactful and citizen-polarizing issues, concerning, woman’s right to an abortion and the government regulation of firearms. As we are able to recall, it was at, or about, such time that the general American population, rather than constructively engaging in amicable debate on the contested issues, opted to form insular groups of identical opinion, which groups were in conflict with other like groups of diverse opinion. Their mutual affiliation as fellow American citizens appeared to take second place in fealty, to their groupthink stances on these issues. Political candidates appeared to be nominated and popularly elected, based upon their respective positions on these determinative issues, rather than on the traditionally, rational question of who would be a better President for the good of the Nation.
The Trump election in 2016 and the inability of the American society to come together, even when confronted with a deadly virus, conclusively ended any of our long-standing delusion of a commonality of American citizenship. Social trends pushed America apart and split along partisan, racial and ethnic lines. It appeared that political disparities were now reinforced by the various levels of ethnic, racial and religious conflict. To complicate matters, Trump’s belligerent assaults on the fundamental and existential concept of the “truth,” was instrumental in disagreement between citizens not only regarding the disparate issues but, of factual truth itself.
The unprecedented violent insurrection, which took place at the Capitol Building, at the express invitation of the defeated Donald Trump, severely altered our long-standing faith and understanding, concerning the implicit identification, and instinctive loyalty of, the American citizen to his Nation. Yet something more was yet to come which, bizarrely and unfortunately, caused us to feel confused and possibly, retrograde about our traditional and steadfast understanding of the innate, universal connection between the American citizen, and his country.
It was no surprise, that when the perverse Russian Autocrat Putin, illegally, and unjustifiably, chose to declare war against Russia’s sovereign neighbor, Ukraine, that the United States, N.A.T.O. and the entire Western and European World, would be outraged and responsibly, to the extent possible, support Ukraine. Imagine our confusion and dismay when Donald Trump, the prior President of the United States, publically lauded Putin’s violent rape of a neighboring democracy, by, together with certain other perverse Trump acolytes, describing him as “smart.”
We, it seems, need to re-examine our long-standing perception of the context and status of the term, “American Citizen,” as well as our prior conception of its predictable and functional loyalty. Have we missed something, along the way?