America Is Being Destroyed By Her Own Values

This Fourth of July, our independence and individualism are destroying the country.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Growing up, I was taught that America was the “best country in the world”.

My grandfather, saying a prayer for Thanksgiving dinner, would thank God for making him an American by birth. No other country has what we had, he would say, eyes up to the Lord. No other country had freedom from persecution, equality for all, rugged individualism to carve your own path, or freedom of speech, like we did. God chose our country. God instilled our values.

I believed him.

I would look forward to our family’s Fourth of July celebrations every year — festivities on the shores of Lake Toxaway in North Carolina — the ultimate expression of our American values. I would wake up early and paint my face red, white, and blue. My aunts and uncles would dress up as American icons like the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam. And, obviously, fireworks. It wouldn’t be the Fourth of July without fireworks.

Those nights, as my brothers and I gleefully tossed firecrackers in the air — oohing and ahhing as they sparkled like faeries dancing — we had pride in our country. Real, true, patriotic ‘Murican Pride.

But fireworks are just illusions — little displays of light that trick us into seeing magic before fizzling into nothing.

It took a long time before I realized that America’s values were illusions too.

The myth of America has been fully exposed

The very things that our flag stands for, that the Fourth of July stands for — independence, freedom, equality, free speech, individualism — have been tilted to their most extreme, most corrupt, forms.

Independence is now the maskless man in the grocery store. He walks through the aisles, flagrantly touching items and spreading his germs to every box of Cheerios he sees. An underpaid cashier begs him to stop endangering the people around him, but the man only sees this as an infringement of his own rights.

Freedom is now the officer who walks the streets after killing an unarmed black man, unburdened by the threat of a civil or criminal lawsuit. Free are the men who killed Breonna Taylor. And the men who killed Stephon Clark. And the men who killed Philando Castile. And the men who killed Tamir Rice. And the men who killed —

Equality is now the tenant, unable to pay rent, stuck looking at job boards to replace the income that evaporated overnight. As the Senate is unwilling to treat Americans differently due to their needs, the rich enjoy a soaring stock market and cushy remote working jobs. Everyone else? They have to decide between paying rent and buying groceries.

Free speech is now the President, throwing executive orders and lawsuits at anybody who says something he doesn’t agree with, abusing his Oath of Office and the First Amendment. He even attacks his former allies. His former security adviser. His favorite social media platform. Even his own goddam niece.

Individualism is now the ignorant citizen, barraging their local official with conspiracy theories in a town hall meeting. She yells about how masks prevent carbon dioxide from escaping, thinking she knows more than medical professionals, all so she doesn’t have to do the bare minimum to save her neighbors from disease.

Even the symbols of the Fourth of July have been corrupted. Fireworks have been set off for weeks now, frightening dogs, awakening children from sleep, and contributing to a national sense of unease. Your barbecues only exist because of a presidential order to open meat-packing plants without proper safety inspections. The patriotic hamburgers in people’s hands have caused over 30,000 meat-packing employees to fall ill in hotspots around the country. Parties and celebrations are only one cough away from becoming a super-spreader event.

Our values were not prepared for any of the crises that we face today. Unity and science are needed to stop a virus and reduce its death toll, not independence. Understanding, empathy, and listening are required to fix systemic racism, not individualism. True equality is needed to prevent poverty and starvation in a recession, not the illusion of fairness.

Everything that America prides itself on has now been weaponized against her. And her citizens are dying.

The American Dream is no more

Aristotle famously said that every virtue rests between two extreme versions of it. A courageous person is neither cowardly nor foolhardy, but rather, halfway between the two. They possess a “golden mean” — neither too much nor too little of any trait.

America’s values, if they ever even existed as “golden means”, have now completely tipped their way to their most extreme forms. America is incapable of doing anything halfway. Independence should allow everyone to have the freedom to think whatever they want — not to ignore facts clearly visible in front of them. Individualism should allow Americans to develop their own ideals — not to sacrifice others’ safety for their convenience.

Too much of a good thing is rarely a good thing. American values should be pure and true and good — not pushed to their most severe maximums where they rebound into hurting ourselves.

But now, every single other country in the world pities and fears us. They see our increasing cases and fear for our safety. They close their borders to us. Our position as a world leader has been steadily deteriorating over the last few years, but the outbreak seems like the nail in the proverbial coffin.

I yearn for the days when our values become our values again. When individualism is no longer an extreme in which Americans stop caring about other people’s lives. When our inequality ceases its rampant cruelty. When ignorance is no longer mistaken for intellect.

There is no clear cure in sight, not for any of our ills. Until the day that American citizens understand that our virtues cannot exist in their extreme forms, those virtues will continue to corrupt us from the inside out.

A queer, herbivorous, leftist Viking. I write about society, justice, and popular media. UChicago grad. Based in Iceland.

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