Most of us think “American values” means “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We talk about our “greatness” as a nation and, unlike all other nations, we have, from the start, refused to dip our flag in respect to other lands, other cultural values, other ways of doing things. At the anniversary of our ancestors’ armed invasion of the Western Hemisphere, we started saying the Pledge of Allegiance and, somewhere during my childhood, some devout and patriotic souls added “under God,” to it despite our Founding Fathers’ objections to joining religion and patriotism.
However, true values aren’t demonstrated by words but by actions and our actions, I’m sorry to report, paint a different picture of our values.
In our economy, where corporate capitalism engulfs most successful entrepreneurship, the two cherished values are consumption and profit. Fair play and treating each other kindly are lost in the shuffle. Maybe in the old days, there were (at times) fair play, barn raising, and neighborly help, but in corporate capitalism, the idea is to encourage an individual to get into serious debt or trouble and then take what you can away from him or her. The only meaningful American value in corporate capitalism is return on investment which translates to “short-term profit.”
This excessive greed has influenced politics to the point that corporate America owns most media, essentially buying our vote and getting us to elect politicians who, no matter which side wins, represent the interests of the wealthiest 2% of us almost exclusively against the remaining 98%. This was most obvious when they took money you earned through hard work and distributed it as bonuses for the people who made many of us homeless and drained our savings with risky and mislabeled investments. Today, our senators and congresspersons have concocted a bill which purchases a tax cut for the already excessively wealthy with the health and well-being of poor and middle class Americans and is designed to increase these inequities gradually over time.
In our churches, our highest value is credulity; in believing a book which has been discredited many times in many ways. Few people believe that the Universe was created in six days six thousand years ago. Few people believe that disease is caused solely by sinful behavior. Few people expect anyone to live 900 years. I fail to see how unearned forgiveness ties logically to a leap of faith or makes someone a better person. And few people could even begin to explain the Trinity to anyone not raised in the culture, but we go to church every week, and we worship this stuff as “The Word of God.”
And a uniquely American value is a belief in violence as a deterrent to violence. I think at least some of this delusion comes from our belief in The Old Testament, where “God” is extremely violent and yet totally ineffective in making humans renounce sin, greed, or debauchery. Some of it undoubtedly comes from the pervasive violence in our entertainment, movies and video games. We arm our police with pistols and shotguns and most of America thinks this is absolutely necessary. In other modern countries, the police generally go unarmed while violence is a small fraction of what it is here.
We prowl the seven seas with nuclear submarines and threaten small countries like North Korea to do as we say (not as we do) and we believe this is right and just. We even have stories and justifications to explain our use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction against civilians. We continue to produce plastic land mines, those undetectable instruments of indiscriminate violence while the rest of the world seeks to abolish their use. Many of us have guns in our homes and in our glove compartments and gun racks in the thoroughly disproved belief that guns deter violence. In our actions, and sometimes in our words, “might makes right.” Our powerful weaponry entitles us to bully others and to unilaterally decide what is “good” and what is “evil.”
We can’t seem to let some violence go without reacting with violence of our own. Again, Americans see a violent reaction to violence as absolutely necessary despite the admonitions of Jesus to “turn the other cheek.”
We abrogated attempts at keeping the planet habitable by disavowing the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, thinking, in our bizarre way, that these gruesome weapons constitute some kind of “deterrent.” We just don’t see how countering a threat with a threat isn’t effective in the long run. And we’ve completely lost the ability to see the other side’s point of view.
Finally, Americans are insular and insulated. They cling to their own group, their own “ism” and their own belief systems as if their lives depended on it. Seeing the other side of an argument is no longer an American characteristic. We refuse to listen to each other or try to understand the other side. While it isn’t exactly “fake news”, CNN spends most of its time gossiping about our President rather than presenting the facts to us and moving on. And the most recent Republican Convention spent quite a few minutes defaming their opponent by chanting, “Lock her up!” Of course, when their leaders got into office, no such thing happened because any real investigation of the facts would reveal no sinister motive, no nefarious intent. But it shows our vulnerability and gullibility to one-sided arguments, to partisan politics, to hate and vilification as standard practice.
This vulnerability was evident when Dwight David Eisenhower involved us in the Vietnamese civil war, backed by a vast majority of Americans, where we foolishly killed three million Vietnamese who turned out to be allies in the Cold War, not enemies. It happened again when Bush 41 defended the rogue state, Kuwait, Clinton 42 boycotted Iraq for his eight years with “no fly” zones and Bush 43 invaded Iraq for what turned out was no good reason at all. Our cupidity, aggressiveness, and gullibility as a nation has come back to haunt us as these decisions, along with a prior decision to actively support colonialism and Zionism, destabilized the entire Middle East and led to violence and enmity all over the region and spreading rapidly to other parts of the world.
We spend an inappropriate percentage of our Gross Domestic Product on our mislabeled Defense Department which uses death and destruction in the poorer parts of the rest of the world to increase profit, production, and patriotism back home.
We now are prepared to jump into several wars which are primarily the result of our own false values and erroneous beliefs, ready to once again “right wrongs” with additional violence, believing, against a great deal of historical evidence to the contrary, that this time around, it will miraculously stop (rather than escalate) the enmity, killing, and destruction.
©David N. Dodson, July 2017