The notion of taking the country back is something that I hear more and more. Being a naturally curious guy I always ask: Where did it go? Who took it? Why did they take it? Will they give it back? Did they actually take the whole country?
Then I scratch my head because I get to the REALLY tough question. Who does the country actually belong to? Frankly, I don't know. I guess it's a natural inclination that the country belongs to the people that live there. That's probably true enough. What about the obvious difficulty that comes from the inherent differences in people? Those are the very things, those differences, that drive our country. (Admittedly when I say “our country” referring to the USA I'm not even sure who I'm including in that. I think its all US citizens/dual citizens, but really it's probably more expansive if I really think on it.)
Lately, it feels like our differences have been highlighted almost as much, and in some cases more, than ever before. As a result we hear confusion, worry, and ultimately anger. People look around and see an unfamiliar landscape. A place of comfort and safety is no more for them. The rules have changed on what is accepted in society, in politics, in business. Hell, we have a black President!
To say this change is new is actually disingenuous. You see, the US, America, our country, (whatever term you like, just not 'Murica) has been doing this since it was born. Our country is literally founded on bucking the status quo in favor of progressive ideals. Yes, compared to today's standards on many things our “founders” (a term I use in derivation because of the connotation it currently contains, it makes me so mad I have fits of accidental alliteration) would be considered conservative. Make no mistake that at the time they lived the men active in the formation of the United States of America were pushing social norms. They were progressive thinkers, men of the enlightenment and well educated.
I think of the USA as an object in space, and Newton's first law is working in full force: An object in motion, stays in motion. It's a simple statement, and in a vacuum is true for objects, but as applied I think it properly describes our country.
We were kicked off by our founders in a new and bold direction. Our countrymen (and women) went forward. They made progress, blazed trails, and forded rivers. The landscape, physically and politically, changed on a near daily basis. A person that was happy in the year 1800 probably thought things were getting out of hand by 1825. I can just imagine an old cranky man complaining about this new generation and their side burns. (I'm looking at you President Van Buren.) Just like a person happy in 1990 may be shocked at the current state of affairs in 2014. I say again: black President! Time marches on, and progress is made.
To help me with this question of what “our country” even means I turned to my personal guide on many things, Mark Twain. As always, his insights of 125 years ago helped me assemble my thoughts. Here is what Twain said about the idea of country:
“For in a republic, who is "the Country"? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant- merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is "the Country"? Is it the newspaper? is it the pulpit? Is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in a thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn't.”
I think in the context of those most angry today this idea of “taking the country back” has far more to do with who is in power than anything, and if it swings the other way then maybe the same cry will be made from the other side of the aisle. But I can't help but notice that the cry of “taking the country back” is also heavily tied to ideas of religion, morality, and general social norms. To those people let me make it perfectly clear: The United States of America is a progressive nation. If the country was “taken” by other US Citizens, then what claim do you have that is superior to theirs?
The country is still here. It didn't leave, and no one took it. It's no more “your country” than it is mine, his, hers, theirs, or anyone else that calls the USA home. We are all stewards of something bigger than ourselves, steering it to the future and trying our best to keep it from hitting the rocks. Democracy, by most measures, is one of the great creations of man, and one the US has devoted a great many resources to implement in other nations, wanted or not. Maybe you think we should turn the wheel a different direction, and maybe you're right, but the ultimate direction is still forward. So let's all stop pretending the people that disagree with you are any less worthy to steer. Respect is something we can give for free, and that will pay great dividends.