I am a true American–here’s what that means

I am a true American.  One thing that means: it means that my four grandparents were of four different national origins–and my Russian grandfather came here as a refugee.  (My French grandfather stuck around ’cause he had a cute little student–kisses in Heaven, Grandma.)  My family is Jewish, and Muslim, and Catholic, and Protestant.  Our marriage ceremonies are in English, or Hebrew, or Italian, and we mourn in Aramaic.  My niece speaks English to her mother and myself, but throws tantrums in Mandarin, and if my baby brother and I need to have a discrete discussion about ice cream in her presence, we do it in Spanish.

Another thing that it means when I say that I’m a true American: it means that I spent nine and a half years of my life in the US military.  It means that my cousins were in the service, that my father’s approach to raising me was largely based on what he learned in boot camp, that his cousins were in the service, that my Uncle Leonard’s portrait in his Army uniform still hangs in my cousins’ homes–and that Uncle Leonard’s brother died in the Battle of the Bulge. On French soil, and in the US Army.

Another thing that it means when I say that I’m a true American: I believe in American exceptionalism.  (I believe in French exceptionalism, too, but we can talk about that another time.)  That means that I don’t think you have to “Make America Great Again”–it already is great, and will continue to be so, if our current president doesn’t totally fuck it up, as he is well on the way to doing.

Those are all part of what make me an American.  But, none of them are essential.  Here’s what is the essence of being an American.  Being an American means that in my DNA, you will find an absolute, total, complete commitment to the following:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of the press
  • Freedom of religion

I say “in my DNA” because it’s not enough to say that I believe in those things.  Belief is changeable.  Freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion are somewhere in my bones, my blood, my soul.  They are what make me an American.

Consequently, I’m offended by the idea of Donald Trump giving speeches on July 4th, the national holiday on which we celebrate our birth as a nation.  For context, please be aware that I don’t offend easily.  For example, although I’m Jewish, anti-Semitism doesn’t bother me in the least–as far as I’m concerned, if you’re not trying to toss my grandmother in a gas chamber, you and I can sit down for a beer and a cigarette, or you can go fuck yourself, as you prefer–your anti-Semitism is not something that I’m going to get offended about (modulo any desires that you might have to kill my grandmother, although in that case, I would not get offended (I hope)–just shoot you).

Nonetheless: Donald Trump standing up in public and pretending to represent my country is offensive.  Why?  Let’s look at the difference between what makes me a real American–and what makes Trump un-American.

Trump select service
Trump’s Selective Service record. Picture source: http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2015/jul/21/was-trump-draft-dodger/

Forget where his parents came from–in America, that’s something that we at least try not to hold against you.  Instead, let’s talk about where his children are going.  More precisely, let’s talk about where they’re not going: they’re not going into the US military.  They’re adults, they’re healthy, and as far as we can tell, they’re mentally intact–but, like their father before them, not one of them has volunteered.  (More precisely, Trump avoided the draft on the claim that he has bad feet, then some decades later claimed that he would be the healthiest president ever.)  The schmuck is happy to send your kids to war, but he’s sure as hell not sending his.

Let’s talk about American exceptionalism–the idea that America is special, and has something to offer the rest of the world.  Here’s Trump’s take on the subject.  Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News–Trump’s most faithful defender amongst the mainstream news media–asked him about his positive remarks about Russian president Vladimir Putin:

“But he’s a killer,” O’Reilly said to Trump.
“There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump replied.
You can watch the video here.
Here’s the thing, though: none of that is of the essence.  What is of the essence is three things:
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of the press
  • Freedom of religion

…and those are the three things against which Trump has most consistently fought.  Advocating changes to the libel laws to make it easier for him to sue people who are critical of him; attacking the press sans répit; and most of all–and, to an American, most horrifyingly–unremittingly advocating prejudice against people because of their religion.  Here’s the thing about Trump’s Muslim ban, his anti-Muslim hate-mongering: The whole récit national of America–our entire national history, creation story, myth, call it what you will–is based on freedom of religion.  If you look at the settlement history of our country, the colonies were all founded by different religious groups who wanted to do their different religious things without being persecuted for it.  Massachusetts was Puritan, Virginia was Anglican, Pennsylvania was Quaker.  And, you know what?  We got along.  There have been exactly zero religious wars in this country–ever.

That’s why you’re seeing Americans all over this country protesting against Trump’s Muslim ban.  A good American is not someone who wears a flag in his lapel (I don’t, and neither do my fellow veteran cousins, or my father, or his cousins; neither did my Uncle Leonard; neither did his brother, who did something that neither Trump nor his children will ever do–he gave his life in our military).  A good American is, in the end, this: someone whose commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion is absolute; someone who will not give one fucking inch on that commitment for safety, or money, or cheap gas; someone who will defend to the death his enemy’s right to speak, to publish, and to pray as he sees fit.

That’s not Trump.  That’s not his kids.   In the US military, we take an oath.  It’s not an oath to defend the president, or the country, or the government, or a flag.  It’s an oath to protect the Constitution–the place where those freedoms are enshrined.  And by the way–me and the other generations of military veterans in my family?  We vote Democrat.  Happy 4th, and may the true America thrive.

4 thoughts on “I am a true American–here’s what that means”

  1. Touching hommage to your country and what it had to offer to the world .
    About the class of people who like sending others to war, WWI was a touchstone in the collective consciousness of the masses in Europe, at least in France . Difficult to ignore by then that this war’s goal was a minority’s wealth ( the famous “marchands de canons”) . There is a WWI quote I really like from a poet called Paul Valery, which can suit Trump and his accomplce Putin :
    « La guerre est faite par des gens qui ne se connaissent pas et qui se tuent, au profit de gens qui eux, se connaissent et ne se font jamais de mal ».
    I guess you are able to translate with your polycultural genes .

    Liked by 2 people

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