Archived Opinion

Proud to be an American ... sort of

op frSince I was old enough to talk, I’ve been told that being an American was something special, something I could take great pride and assurances in, and that my dreams and aspirations were indeed possible here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

This notion seemed logical as a child since our family always had shoes to wear and plenty to eat, a warm house in winter and presents under the tree every Christmas. We were never shot at, our town was never attacked by enemy forces, nor had anyone I knew ever been imprisoned without just cause and due process. I grew up respecting and honoring our public officials, knowing that they were working hard to protect our national interests, our individual rights and our position as a world leader promoting liberty and justice for all.

In the early 1970s I began to see some cracks in my view of our perfect union as our president was impeached as a liar and a thief, our bombs killed thousands of foreigners in their own country and big corporations polluted our land, air and rivers in the name of profit with little regard for anything else. College proved fertile ground for further study and scrutiny of how our government, businesses and democratic systems worked — and sometime didn’t, with horrific consequences. The cracks in my pride and beliefs grew into wider chasms as I dug deeper, and the holes in the “perfect nation” mantra I’d believed in became too obvious to ignore.

Now in middle age, with four decades of study and observation behind me, that pride has been regularly diminished when I look at America’s place in the world and the past 40 years of our history. We comprise only 4.5 percent of the world’s population and indeed have a high standard of living by world comparison (No. 1 in education level, No. 2 in per capita income). Unfortunately, we are also rank first in obesity, first in oil consumption (more than twice as much as second-place China), first in electricity usage and first in military expenditures (43 percent of the world’s total, more than the next dozen countries combined).

Even with all this wealth and education we rank only 49th in life expectancy, and our percentage of people living in poverty is actually increasing each year, along with our national debt, money we have borrowed to keep us going on this path (source: How can our great nation have become so disassociated from its founding principles of equality and justice for all and turned us into the consumers of the world?

It often seems as though deceit, fraud and manipulation of the facts are the new guiding principles in our government and business climates, and stomping on whatever and whoever is in the way is part of the new ladder to success, domestic tranquility and general welfare be damned.

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The election campaigns underway are a prime example of how far we have strayed from the founders’ original intent. The sound bytes and misrepresentations flying at us are virtually endless, and our minds are being cluster-bombed like so many of the deserts and forests around the world our government has felt the need to have influence over. Many of our citizens are feeling the same as those countries’ war survivors; shell-shocked, disillusioned, disenfranchised and unsure of what’s coming next or how to best care for our families. It’s next to impossible to truly know our candidates since handlers and marketing consultants plan their every move and word. 

We now live in a nation where “super PACS” comprised of uber-wealthy individuals run the candidates and Congress like marionettes tied to financial strings, all the while being anonymous and free from blame, scrutiny, truth or disclosure. They have been granted the right by our courts that freedom of speech is essentially the same as freedom to sling mud and fabricate the truth as they see it. Big Brother now is made of faceless dollars rather than wiretaps and muscle. Perhaps if Missouri House Member Todd Akin had been discussing this issue when he described “legitimate rape,” he’d be heralded a hero rather than a zero.

Far from Washington’s beltline and a little closer to home, we can look just over the border and see where former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s Appalachian Trail trip in Argentina cost him his career, and Bryson City Fire Chief Joey Hughes was booked on 48 counts by a grand jury after years of “blind-eyed” politics. The waste and mismanagement appear to be rampant on every level of our nation’s and state’s operations, and many feel as though there is little they can do. 

On a national level, no one even knows how many millions of dollars are dropped on the floor each day during the winking, nodding, earmarking and backscratching “courtesies” our representative and lobbyist trade hour by hour. I think some of the best possible jobs in government would be to run the broom that sweeps all those dollars up, the garbage can operator who throws them out and the hauling service hired to cart them off to the landfill of the taxpayers.

I check a dozen or more news websites each morning from around the world to try to find some kind of balance in the reporting I receive, forwarding on the most interesting (or laughable) stories to friends, family and acquaintances that I think might find them of use. Some have asked to be removed from my list because of info-overload, while others have simply hit “block sender,” probably in an attempt to simplify their lives. I can’t blame them. Most of us suffer from too much “spin” in our lives as it lurks everywhere we try to look. But somewhere we each have to find a way to navigate through the static and make personal choices about where we as individuals and as a nation are going in the tomorrows headed our way. I don’t know where that is any more than Eli Whitney knew about outsourcing our textile manufacturing to Asia, but I have to remain hopeful, and I choose to focus on the positive aspects we have in this great country that we all call home, as difficult as that may sometimes be.

As some have stated, it may take an asteroid, an alien visitation, or a Second Coming of some sort to shake up the U.S. and wake it from its overfed, too-comfortable slumber. Complacency has no place in moving us forward as a nation, and how we interact and are perceived by the rest of the world. I hope that we are able to muster the strength and the wisdom to move forward with honesty and dignity toward others and the best interests of all in the forefront of our minds. That may seem too much to ask, but if enough demand it, we may eventually get some honest answers and actions.

I’ll be supporting our President in his re-election this fall because I want to be a proud American again as he does, evidenced not by his words, but by his actions, despite the spin and obstructions his opponents throw at him.

(John Beckman farms near Cullowhee and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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