Welcome to the United Snakes: Land of the Thief, Home of the Slave”
What unites Americans? Certainly not politics, religion or even language. Music? Forget it. It’s really only certain events. Even the Olympics can’t unite us as much as they do other countries. We are united by tabloid stories, like balloon boy and Save Coco. Events like 9/11–but even now that has faded and changed. There is far more loyalty to city, state or region than to pais or country. You’re not American, you’re a New Yorker, or a California Girl.
There is a distinct attitude to being American, one that’s hard to see form the inside. The individualist, capitalist attitude. Who we blame for misfortune, and our attitudes about work, success, entitlement and what we deserve are particularly American. In Cuba, we saw it with food, with what I came to call Capitalist Breakfast. We had one egg per person on hard-boiled egg days, and that was it. 17 people, 17 eggs. But that’s not how it shook out. Some people didn’t want theirs (supply) and others were still hungry every morning (demand). Some were bough with kindness, but most with cunning. Well, cunning is the nice, American way of putting it.
Maria, who made our breakfast, saw everything that happened. She couldn’t believe the way some people would take or hide eggs beyond what was given to them. It was so American and so repulsive to her.
“Don’t they know that everyone is hungry? Why do they think they should have more eggs than everyone else?”
Well, in the American ethos, if I want it and I can manage to get it, then I deserve it and it is mine. And rightfully so. If someone complained about not getting their egg, the response was, “Well, you didn’t wake up early enough and I did. That’s what you get.” This would simply not happen in a Cuban household. This is what unites us: selfishness disguised as meritocracy. Because, “It’s a free country, I’ll do what I want.”
“I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free!”
At least? Shouldn’t we shoot for more? And aren’t there lots of other places that are free? We cling to this claim to fame as though we are unique to it. We have a singular passion for absurd expressions of freedom.
And free to do what? Overpay for health care? Have our elected officials ignore our wishes? Have someone else determine our president? T overpay for education and graduate to underemployment? Free to harass immigrants as though that’s not how we got here? Free to discriminate, to make intolerant jokes as some proud banner of resistance to the Church of Political Correctness?
No wonder we don’t have much in common–we can hardly stand each other.