I Don’t Recognize My Country

I Don’t Recognize My Country

By

Leonard Zwelling

I bought into it years ago. I am an American. Even when I felt like a foreigner, I was always an American. I pledged allegiance to the flag and learned the Star Spangled Banner. I memorized the Preamble to the Constitution and learned my American history. I visited all the monuments in Washington, DC and climbed the Statue of Liberty. I’ve been to Pearl Harbor, Ground Zero, and the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. I’m an American.

In 1956, in Stratford, CT where I was one of a few Jewish kids in my elementary school (I had to explain Hanukkah to my classmates), my class voted for president. Adlai Stevenson got three votes out of twenty or so. Mine was one of those. The rest went to President Eisenhower. I was still an American even if an outlier.

When I went to Durham, NC as a freshman at Duke and again was a Jewish Yankee among many WASP Southerners, I felt like a foreigner, but I never felt like I was not an American even when I was being discriminated against in a quest for off-campus housing because my roommate was Black.

On Capitol Hill in 2009 when I worked for a Republican Senator, I certainly felt out of place given my New York liberal upbringing. But I was still proud to be serving my country in the US Senate even if it was just as a lowly staffer. I was still an American.

All of these occasions stressed my sense of belonging. I never felt quite at home in Stratford, or Durham, or Washington, DC. I feel quite at home in Houston and always feel at home in Manhattan.

But after the election of 2020, I am beginning to wonder where it is that I live. Upwards of 70 million of my fellow Americans voted for an unqualified disaster of a leader like Donald Trump. That the other choice was Joe Biden, is even worse. Where is my country? Where are the values of American humility, friendship, defense of the downtrodden and championing of freedom and liberty? Where is American excellence and intelligence (both meanings)? Surely not in either of these old men. Where is American exceptionalism when our democracy seems to be running aground on the reef of racism, corruption and foreign influence of our politics and our means of communication?

I want my country back. I think so do many Americans.

The Trump supporters long for a white America where even the poorest among them were in a caste above that of those of color. By contrast, the people of color, Latinos, LGBTQ people and others historically discriminated against want no part of that old America but long for the hypothetical, once and future America where everyone has an equal shot. You know the one. It’s in the high school history books. Or it used to be.

I surely don’t want to return to the America of my second grade class of all white students, few Jews, no Latinos, and who knew who was gay? But I also don’t believe America should revert to socialism as a means to solve its problems for fear of heading down the path of Great Britain and the rest of Europe that depend upon us for their defense.

We need to carve out a new America with new political parties and a recommitment to our American values. I don’t recognize my country after last Tuesday. I would love to make it to 2024 and see if America can make a comeback. We will need new leadership in both parties. Let’s get started.

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