A prominent Native American law blog I follow posted a tongue-in-cheek message to Americans celebrating the Fourth of July. The headline declared:
Happy Fourth from the Merciless Indian Savages
For the confused, the headlined referenced a brief passage from the Declaration of Independence, listing the offenses of King George III. The excerpt appears in full below:
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
It’s true that the United States has had a violent relationship with American Indians. From an abject policy of destruction and relocation hailing from the early years of the Jackson Administration, to a policy of systemic termination of tribal governments, I suppose if any group in America has a grievance against the government we celebrate today, it would be my people, the Native Americans.
The point is not to measure effronteries, but I can understand the purpose in the making the statement. The simple fact is that America is neither a perfect angel, nor an evil villain as the social extremes would suggest.
The best description we can give America is that we are a wonderful, complicated, dysfunctional family.
Think about our family tree. We have Bible-beating aunts from the midwest. We have uncles that drink too much from the south. We have mothers and fathers who don’t speak to each other anymore (but refuse to divorce for tax reasons) in the northeast. And we have lazy cousins who would rather be professional students than get a real job from the west.
But even the most dysfunctional of families has to come together every now and again.
So, we have an annual probate meeting to discuss the estate of our late Uncle Sam. Each family sends its delegates to the meeting down in Washington, D.C. where they take in the sights, and pretend to be very busy. Being a family meeting, however, you can imagine how little they actually get done. In fact, they spend most of their time yelling at each other, drinking, and having the odd sex scandal. The end result is the occasional bastard child, and the need for years of therapy.
But sometimes we really do come together, and get important, things, done. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen on occasion. And when it does happen, we’re a stronger family for it. That is until the next time Uncle John gets drunk watching Nascar, and mocks Cousin James for his vegan lifestyle in San Francisco. Then we have a family World War III and Grandma and Grandpa have to step in and settle things down.
And that’s why I love America really. We behave just like a family, only on a bigger scale. And even while we may loathe our cousins for being self-righteous, at the end of the day, we would miss them if they weren’t around anymore.
America’s greatness isn’t the moral high-ground we sometimes claim. And our weakness isn’t that we drive trucks instead of hybrids. America’s greatness is that we manage, somehow, to get along. Mostly.