Americans are not generally cowards, or at least they didn’t used to be. And while the frontier mythology that still gives us the image of the tough guy striving for justice, most of us are aware that noble saints like this were the creation of Hollywood, between the World Wars. And the social transformation caused by World War II, from the roving cowboy and into the brave front line soldier, is perhaps best articulated by the seamless shift of characters that maintained the middle of John Wayne’s career (and then back again, once war fell out of favor). But there is an eerie consequence the fusion of a hard-drinking killer for hire into a hard-as-nails marine has had on our modern perceptions of bravery and heroism. And the Cold War helped to impose doubt upon our very belief in virtue and nobility. The world very rapidly became a nest of conspiracies, or at least that is how we began to perceive it. This is, of course, the era that Donald Trump grew up in, a time when raw courage became fundamental doubt. It was an age when people were we expected to admire were uncovered as simple human beings, flaws and all. This was when America saw the true rebirth of a radical divide it hadn’t seen since the years before the Civil War.
Now I am not going to sit here and write nasty, angry, petty, negative rants against the nation of my birth–the United States of America, a land that I truly love (my forthcoming book, titled Recording Editorial History, on the varying opinions people held about every president throughout out past, has the following dedication: “For America: I love you, you wrong-headed, vulgar bitch.”). But we have to admit, regardless of where we come from, that our home has a great deal to answer for. This is not just a nationalistic statement, but even right outside our front doors. Our parents and grandparents and ancestors and children and, certainly, ourselves, are to blame for a great many things that have gone wrong with the world. And this, too, is not about our necessarily being cowards (only some of us are), nor is it about our being particularly evil (just a handful). It is about the blindness we suffer, the small-minded disbelief we share in the different opposing viewpoints we so often condemn without thinking.
Not every belief is valid, regardless of what PC people both left and right might try to force you to believe (to reiterate an earlier point from another piece, left-wing ‘political correctness’ has been rightly trashed as a weak-kneed shriek of hurt feelings that does not have any weight in a public debate, but the right-wing PC–patriotic correctness–is merely a reflection of the same thing, the bald hurt feelings of ‘how dare you!’ and ‘that’s not my America!’ focused on some other anti-freedom distraction). Some beliefs are, in fact, simply wrong. They’re stupid. At one time they were even meant to be parodies of the larger and more serious ideas on the cause and meaning of all things. (Here are two examples, one which really shouldn’t get me into any trouble and, if it does, will merely prove my point: https://www.scientology.org/ https://www.venganza.org/).
But how do we confront things that are simply stupid–that are wrong, regardless of the fact that some people hold them faithfully as absolute truth? The PC (on either side), repeat some mantra about how ‘every opinion is valid,’ (regardless of their overt condemnation of ideologies different from their own), thus making it into some sort of social crime to declare that what another person believes is stupid. And while this might be impolite (an issue to be taken up in another essay, because most of us are little more than rude assholes any longer), it does not make ‘freedom of speech and expression’ any less poignant, just because you scream that another person is wrong.
But I was talking about cowardice. I am talking about cowardice. Do you know what the most craven behavior I see from Americans these days is? It is outrage. It is taking moral offense over someone disagreeing with them. Just the title of this piece alone, I am absolutely certain, based upon the variety of audience I have to this point managed to develop, will get people who refuse to read it to call me, non-sequitur, a coward for daring to point to anything American as fearful. Others, who may perhaps skim through this piece, will do it with a smug head-shake, perhaps pulling an unedited line out to lay into me about my hypocrisy (being consistent to my point, anyway, this will neither hurt my feelings nor cause any outrage, perhaps just a mild re-write). And yet there will still be others, those who blankly may approve of my message without bothering to consider it, who will give me a thumbs up for my title alone. These are the disillusioned, the entirely partisan who shrink every issue down, much like our President, into who we blame for everything wrong with society. This will not exclusively be the left who will approve, blaming Trump alone, but, equal and opposite, there will be the still lingeringly kind-hearted right, blaming the left, or ‘the Democrats,’ or whichever generalized organization they feel is the cause of everything going wrong. I may even be championed for being ‘brave’ (that is how to make me laugh).
I am not calling Americans cowards. On the most part we are not (yet). But if we simply monitor the irrationality of how we respond to the slightest provocation, this seeping rot will make itself known. An over-reaction, the hysterical scream of rage without actually taking the time to listen to a different point-of-view, is cowardice. It is no different than quivering in a bunker, or dropping your gun and running away. It is sticking your head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge anything real outside of your limited self. This is what is means to be afraid. It is a frightening world and it always has been. We need to stop being terrorized and face the consequences of what we have brought upon ourselves.