Today, Democracy Held, and I Cried by Christina Knowles

Today was Inauguration Day for Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris, a day overshadowed by the threat of violence and the realization of how close we came to losing our democracy. Of course, I expected to be joyful and relieved on such a day. What I didn’t expect was to be reduced to an emotional puddle of tears at the mention of each seemingly normal act throughout the day.

For the past four years, I’ve been increasingly ashamed of the United States and embarrassed by both its president and many of its citizens. I don’t like this feeling. I grew up filled with pride to be an American. I considered myself a patriot and loved our country. I was raised to believe that being an American meant being part of a sacred idea, an idea of equality and freedom and democracy. A place where no matter where a person came from socioeconomically, no matter what race or creed, Americans were “out of many, one.” We were truly a melting pot, or salad bowl, if you prefer. Of course, I knew we didn’t live out these ideals perfectly every day. It came to my attention in the last decade that being poor was more of a prison sentence than a result of poor choices. And when Barack Obama was elected our first African American president, I was both overcome with emotion and pride in America and stunned to see the overt racism emerge from the shadows with a force I had never imagined could still exist. Over the past four years, I have seen institutional racism exposed and seen our political leaders embrace the most vile of white supremacists. 

I’ve seen our reputation around the world deteriorate at a startling but understandable speed. I’ve sat astounded while obvious lies spewed from the president and his supporters. I’ve been disgusted as his press secretaries abused the press while blatant lies rolled off their tongues. I’ve listened flabbergasted as those who knew better pretended they didn’t and played into what I can only assume they saw as political benefit. Flagrant lies and unfounded and absurd conspiracy theories became a daily occurrence; families divided over impossible to believe notions, friends were torn apart, and our nation fractured. Finally, I sat dumbfounded as deluded domestic terrorists attacked our beautiful Capitol and attempted to overthrow the government and overturn a free and fair election at the encouragement of a sitting president, a treasonous tyrant in the White House.

I knew we were desperate to get President Trump, the sociopathic narcissist, out of a position of power before he started another world war or damaged truth beyond all repair, but I didn’t realize how personally traumatized many of us were. Not until today.

Today I saw democracy win, and I cried. I saw a biracial woman, a daughter of an immigrant, sworn in as Vice President, and I felt that old pride stirring once again, and I cried. I listened to President Biden’s stirring speech about healing and unity, and I cried. I listened to the “National Anthem,” “This Land Is My Land,” and the “Pledge of Allegiance,” and I cried. I swelled with pride at being an American again as I listened to the Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, perform her beautiful and patriotic words of hope, and I cried. I watched President Biden begin the difficult work of undoing the barrage of hateful legislation implemented by former President Trump, and I cried. I listened to Jen Psaki address the press with respect, directness, and truth, and I cried. I watched the relieved and hopeful response of our treasured allies around the world, and I cried.

I expected to be relieved, happy, and hopeful. I didn’t expect that the mundane and ordinary business of politics would ever affect me like this. I didn’t know that I’d been holding my breath for the past four years. I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I’d felt pride in being a United States citizen. I didn’t realize how much I still love my country and have hope in the ideals I thought we stood for, that we might, indeed, still stand for. I didn’t realize how completely traumatized we’ve all been for the past four years. I feel like we’ve all been held hostage by a hostile power, and we’ve just been rescued by the heroes, and it’s finally safe to let out our breath and just cry.

I’m not naïve enough to believe everything is going to be wonderful. I don’t expect miracles from President Biden. I know he’ll make mistakes, and he’s sure to stick his foot in his mouth more than once. He won’t be able to accomplish all he hopes to. I know that racism, conspiracy theorists, and hate will not be eradicated. Everything will probably not be okay, not for a long, long time. But for now, democracy held, the Constitution prevailed, and we’ve been rescued from tyranny, and we have emerged with a healthier understanding of the fragility of everything we hold dear, and a stronger resolve to protect it in the future. Today is a good day to be an American.—Christina Knowles

Un-American by Christina Knowles

un-americanIf we forget the past, we are doomed to repeat it. Yet, we don’t forget, and we still repeat it. Perhaps, the narcissistic tendency to justify all our personal actions sufficiently blinds us from our own reflection.

For the last century, America has boasted and puffed itself up as the greatest democracy that ever was, the shining city on a hill. We ignore America’s horrific past, the massacre of its native peoples, the brutal enslavement of a race brought here against their wills, the internment of loyal Americans because of their ethnicity, the oppression of women, the obliteration of civil rights during the Red Scare, the denial of civil rights to marginalized groups currently, and the continued conquests of world domination under the guise of aid. We blow out of proportion that which we do right: Our fierce determination, our stubborn independence,  our personal commitment to liberty, our strength against all odds, and our citizens’ numerous humanitarian efforts.

But our claim to fame is our beloved constitution, which really is our best redeeming quality. And, ironically we modeled that after the Iroquois Constitution and the Magna Carta, yet we insist on our originality. I love every concept in the Declaration of Independence and many of the beautiful words of our forefathers. They are admirable ideas, profound truths, and something to be proud of. I am patriotic regarding these things. I love my beautiful country. I love the rights I enjoy under our constitution. I love our spirit and our right and willingness to speak our minds. I love how most Americans are willing and eager to rush to someone’s aid, foreign and domestic. This is what it means to be American.

I am not un-American for recognizing the limits and flaws of Capitalism. I am not un-American for believing that affordable health care for all of our people is the very least our country can do for its citizens. I am not un-American for believing that we should take care of our elderly, and to believe they should not have to struggle to work until they die, poor and abandoned by the country they contributed to their whole lives. It is not un-American to expect more. It should be un-American to keep quiet in the face of injustice, to fail to fight for the human rights of others.

Instead, the fascists now in power would have us believe we are un-American if we do not worship Capitalism, hate our neighbors, crush those who cannot compete, and leave the weak to die in the streets.

But I will not be bullied into Nationalism. I will not be a flag-worshiping robot, insisting we can do no wrong. I don’t care if you think I am un-American because your definition of American is not who I want to be.

Interestingly, we are the only large democracy that obsesses over such Nationalistic terms. However, they were very common in highly oppressive Totalitarian states, such as Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union because dictators need blind patriotism in order to manipulate the masses, to turn otherwise decent people into bigoted ideologues that will do their bidding. This is Trump’s America, the next Totalitarian state.

Are we willing to see the truth of our own identity? Can we recognize ourselves in history’s mirror? Or will we repeat the mistakes of other countries that allowed themselves to be caught up in their own grand illusions, denying the possibility that we are too good to let these things happen while we stand idly by? Maybe it’s time to idealize kindness, compassion, liberty, and truth, instead of a flag, and then perhaps, that flag will mean something once again. I will always love America, yet I am not ashamed to be un-American.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2017

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