Welcoming America in the club of Not Good Enough countries
I think you were aware of the eyes of the whole world fixed on you — and you liked that. The child prodigy of a country, breaking the dust-covered customs of the Old World, spreading its God-blessed power to the farthest corners of the earth. We adored you. We hated you. We based our faith in universal freedom, equality, and human rights on your successes.
This level of overconfidence, infuriating yet captivating, can be found in little kids. We rolled our eyes at loud American tourists; we flinched at your version of history, depicting America as the hero saving the day; we despised the wars held in the name of democracy and oil. And yet we couldn’t stop watching your movies, wearing your jeans, and counting your dollars — all proclaiming the exuberant, contagious belief in your exceptionality.
It’s so contagious because no Old World country has a matching level of pride. “Oh, that’s Russia-made”, I’d say about an uncomfortable object; “Well, that’s Italy”, my local friends say about a bureaucracy vortex; “Only in Britain” will mark the things that went wrong, according to Stephen Fry. In this sea of doubtful whispers, your sonorous, assertive voice was what everyone wanted to hear— even when the facts suggested otherwise.
the crumbling faith
It hurts to see you like that, now.
With centuries-old racial conflicts splashing out to the streets, uncontained, with conspiracy theories flourishing in the cracks of broken trust, with the rising tensions between the rich and the poor, powerful and powerless, threatening to violate the very principles the country was built upon.
My own home country has a questionable reputation — I’m trained to endure this kind of heartbreak for years. And yet almost every time the hurtful news reach me, I cry.
I can’t imagine going through this unprepared. Not used to carry the weight of your own imperfection.
dealing with the dark ages
You know, the Old World was also young once. Democratic, prideful city-states were flourishing here, fresh religions of love and hope were catching on, merchants, artisans, and generals were building new orders; newly formed nations fought for independence, heroes earned their titles in heated combats before their descendants got so comfy in fancy castles.
The Old World countries were full of energy and sure of being the Chosen Ones too — and then they got heavy with the burden of things done and undone, cautious, clumsy. They accumulated history: things to be proud of, things to regret, and things to hide.
This history is taught to kids in schools — the dark and the bright pages, discoveries and conspiracies, bloodshed and salvation; heroes, tricksters, and despots. We bear this darkness within ourselves, casually. It’s unpleasant. It makes us second-guess ourselves every time we voice an opinion: isn’t it too medieval? too crusade-ish? too fascist? It is meant to prevent us from doing the same fucked up shit again. Sometimes it even works as intended.
And I wonder if being mindful of one’s dark side is an essential requirement to become a reasonable adult — as a person, and as a culture.
is there a way out?
It might be the case that you are simply one of us. You can be close-minded, hateful, reluctant to change, believing in empty promises, engaging in fruitless battles, and putting your trust in people who don’t deserve it — just like the rest of us are proven to be, repeatedly, throughout the history.
The humanism and the relative decency of the modern world were shaped by the countless conflicts, battles, and struggles, successes and failures, with random influences of the natural forces altering the game. The entire populations went extinct before we figured out that it’s not an acceptable thing to do.
Being decent, just, and equal is a tough standard. A never-ending struggle. But only when you recognize that you are fallible is when your claim for perfection starts to make sense.
The whole world is still looking at you. You are still our wunderkind, our inspiration. We are watching not to judge, and not to copy,
but to see if, in this sea of bigotry, discrimination, and hatred, it makes sense to keep resisting.
I so hope it does.