Saturday, March 10, 2012

American History 101


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about our nation's history. I'm going on a cross country trip in an election year. I'm writing about America and Americans, not just in my nonfiction work, but in my fiction work, too. It's probably important to think about where we, "it," America (or the USA, if you're going to be proper), came from, in order to understand American identity.

There's the history we were taught or were failed to be taught. Honestly, I don't remember much from my early social studies classes about America's beginnings, except that there was a ship full of pilgrims and everyone ate turkey when they came to the New World. From the pictures, it looked like pilgrims had belt buckles on their hats. Somehow the British got involved, and they were mean bullies, so something had to be done. There were a lot of secret meetings, teapot making and carrying of muskets. There was a war. It was winter. Toes and fingers fell off. George Washington was a hero. Someone said, Hey Colonies, let's be a country, and everyone was like: Bam! USA! USA! USA!

I consider myself a real patriot, but seriously, when it comes to early US history, I'm kind like an evangelist who has never actually read the bible and still has the guts to quote it all the time. It's easy to talk about how I feel and what I see right now. It's hard to think how each of us is shaped by a past we cannot feel or see. We all have some sort of deep gut emotion when we think about our nation or the abstract concepts that form it in our minds, and some of that comes, at least in part, from the events surrounding its founding, even if we know them to be true or skewed or not real at all.

At the moment, I'm most interested in the overarching rhetoric. What happens when new nations form? How do people talk about it. I started reading the Federalist Papers this week. To be honest, I won't get through them. They are pretty dense, and I just don't have enough of a context to understand them. I don't feel comfortable with all the Providence and frankly, white male Christian centricedness of it, but it's one vision of America, an important one. It's made of some of the words that made us, and it's powerful.

This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.

I'm pretty impressed. Look at us, millions of us on this giant piece of land, and even though we constantly raise our hackles and bitch and moan about healthcare mandates and transvaginal ultrasounds and the wars our taxes are going to, we still manage to live together. Sometimes, well often, the rhetoric spins out of control. Someone says something awful about someone who thinks differently, or we complain about our rights being infringed upon (which I'm learning our Founding Fathers would have probably been okay with, if it meant protecting the government and in turn, the vast majority of the American people), but we're still together.

I hope we stay that way for a long time.

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