First published January 28, 2018
I have been scared for a long time. I started out fierce, and have been put through the wringer enough times to be wary of getting dunked, lest the wringer be the expected next step. All that time, I struggled with the archetypes of my life. I was always drawn to the deep places, into the scary, confrontational places. I was drawn to complex archetypes: the paradoxes. I didn’t see in a single dimension, I could see from multiple points of view. One dimensional archetypes frightened me. Everyone around me, my mom, my colleagues, they all wanted to live with a more simple understanding:
God: Good and Bad.
Country: Red, White, and Blue- love it or leave it.
Then, from 2008 through 2016, I felt that the world was starting to get comfortable with complexity.
I felt that my world in particular was starting to right itself, and that comforted me in a way that I had not really understood. This was expressed to me in the inclusive culture I saw emerging. It was started with the election of the first African American president, and was brought home with the U.S. Supreme Court decision supporting marriage equality; it showed up in increasing acceptance of transgender people on television; it was demonstrated in popular support for the nomination of the first mainstream woman presidential candidate. And then on November 8, 2016, all of that hope and relief came crumbling down in an avalanche of feeling I had been unprepared for. I didn’t see it coming, and I couldn’t believe the reality.
For weeks, like most people in my peer groups, I walked around in a bizarre daze. How did it happen? Was it real? Were my own countrymen so frustrated and overcome by the tenure of the first black president that they simply could not stand for the first female president to follow? Was that concept, or Hillary herself, really a bridge too far? Did they have to have that temper-tantrumming, foot-stomping, anger-mongering, raging liar on stage just to prove that there was still a place for (angry) white men in America?
And then all the information about Russia’s interference started to trickle, then pour into my awareness. Not only could white men in America not stand Hillary, a white man in a far-away country hated her so much he wasn’t about to let her get elected either. I felt like I was living in my own personal version of The Twilight Zone, where I have no idea what people around me feel or believe, I only trust the people who believe as I do. I know that is part of the problem. I know that this moment has been designed to feel this way. It makes me sad. It makes me angry.
I am angry because at the core of my being:
I believe in the American Promise.
I believe in the Archetypal America.
I believe in the American Flag, Apple Pie, Fourth of July Picnics, Honoring our Military, Crying at the Olympics, and the 1st Amendment. I believe in people. I love the Washington Monument, American Art, American History, and American Culture. I love Coca-Cola, and McDonald's. I love American ingenuity and American entrepreneurship. I love out-of-the-box thinking. And as someone who has traveled, I love that our mythology includes this idea that you don't have to be born to privilege to make something of yourself. You can come from nothing and BE SOMETHING in America, it is not only not frowned upon... it is expected. I love ALL of that about America, even though there are some flaws in those ideas. I have seen with my own eyes that in many other places, you can't even get an education to better yourself if you don't have a "good name". You can't "meet the right people". Because your name, or your great-great-grandfathers sordid reputation will keep you from meeting with a person who could give you a job, or permission to take a test.
America has Greatness in Her.
Archetypes can be positive or negative. They carry the nuanced, and the blatant meanings and symbolism of a thing like little else. Say the world “devil” and people know instantly to what you refer. Call someone “Mother Theresa” and you don’t need to describe their acts of selflessness. An image is always greater than its history or its current capacity.
Positive archetypes, are meant to inspire, to hold us accountable to our ideals. They are meant to guide us, to make us ask ourselves if we are living up to what we are capable of, and when we are confronted with negative archetypes, they give us a downward comparison of who we are acting like, and ask us to compare again upward. Is my behavior bad? Am I being like the hero, Achilles? Or am I acting like the murderous, Othello? Am I doing what Jesus would do, or am I acting like a Pharisee, or worse, a Judas? These archetypes tell us immediately who we can compare to, and they give us instant capacity for course correction.
I would rather be like Jesus than Judas. I would prefer to be Desdemona, rather than Othello. It is better to act like Moses than Pharaoh. And if we want to use more modern archetypes, I’d rather be more like Harry Potter than Draco Malfoy.
Who we choose as a leader matters, not only because that person does a job for us, but also because the image that is portrayed of that leader, winds up representing us to the world. In many parts of the world, America has long battled two opposing Harry vs Malfoy images. We are seen (in the more distant past these days), as the shining land of opportunity, and as a place that has tried to help, and in more recent times and places we are seen as the sneering, ambitious, bully who takes what he wants. BOTH of those images of America have been true at times. Neither is wholly or singularly true. What matters is who we work to be, and who we strive against being. Do we strive against being a power-hungry bully? Or do we indulge our ambition-at-all-costs-type-A-inner-jerk, and empower that side of ourselves?
Of late, I have only seen a congress, and a president who seem to operate on the principle that might makes right. This is the worst of our power. It is not the archetype of America that I uphold. I want a powerful America, one with a moral center upon which to stand. The world needs us to be an emblem of how democracy can work. The world needs an America that sees the ideal of freedom. The world needs an America that sees the necessity of progress, and our often difficult struggle with it. The world needs to know that there are places where corruption doesn’t win. The United States needs to go to battle against the forces of nihilism and cynicism, and win the day for hope, faith in humanity, peace, freedom of thought, and the right and capacity to pursue happiness.
What happens if the allegations of Russian interference turn out to be true, and we do nothing or little? America dies. Not the country, or its government- those may go on for another 100 years. But no, the Archetypal America, “from sea to shining sea,” “land of the free, and home of the brave” that is what dies. For when the archetype of America as a place that strives against tyranny (even within itself), goes down whimpering against the tide of oligarchs and wealthy donors… then America has truly been burned at the stake, or worse, sent to the dungeon to die alone and unnoticed.
We must renew our commitment to the archetypal America, re-enliven, empower, and re-imagine her contours and doctrines in the face of what we have seen this past year. We must see her as we would like to become. We must renew our faith. We must become a New America, and with it, reawaken our commitment to a plural, caring, faithful, resilient, and committed society. With that, I offer a new pledge:
Pledge to the New America
(please place your hand over your heart, and stand)
I pledge allegiance to the People
Of the United States of America
And to the Republic and its Branches
Who represent our One Nation, Indivisible,
I pledge allegiance to this beautiful land,
Whose history is neither perfect nor stainless
A place of proud Native Peoples
And immigrants from many places
All longing for rights equal to the highest among them
I vow to live in kindness, peace, and justice.
I pledge to treat my nation, my countrymen,
And all the inhabitants of this land
With dignity and respect,
And to demand of our leaders that they enforce the will of the People (not corporations) with Liberty, Equality, and Justice for All.
Say it with me.