Proud to be an American?

Once upon a time I cringed at Hillary’s too-convenient, smugly clever response to Trump: “America is already great.” American exceptionalism, and the superiority and complacency that accompanies it, has always annoyed me. “Pride” in my country is not something I can justify; my patriotism is better described by relief, or gratefulness, that I was born here and enjoy the benefits that come with being an American citizen. And as thankful as I am to live here, shame more often describes my attitude toward my country than does pride. The country’s glaring, too often racial flaws—and our questionable behavior abroad—surface with disturbing frequency (particularly in recent months) and have thoroughly disabused me of any satisfaction with the country’s state.
So when Hillary—and more progressive heroes like Elizabeth Warren—started to retort to calls to “Make America Great Again” with claims that “America is already great,” I felt betrayed. The people I trusted to see what is unacceptable about this country set that awareness aside in favor of a cheap slogan. “America is already great.” It seemed a validation of our eagerness to go to war and to forcibly impress our “beliefs” on others, an endorsement of the country’s ugly history.
As the campaign progressed, though, “America is already great” took on a new meaning for me. It wasn’t complacent, it wasn’t self-congratulatory. It said, “America is already great because of its people. Because of its diversity.” It rejected the not-so-subtle racist, sexist, xenophobic undertones of Trump’s slogan. “Make America Great Again” meant, I realized, Make America White Again, Make America Patriarchal Again, and so on. It looked fondly on the days of white supremacy and its bedfellows and called for a return to the very parts of American history (and present reality) that I was wary of Hillary endorsing. And in rejecting that, Hillary didn’t ignore the country’s flaws. She looked not to the past for its days when America was great for so few of its citizens, but to the present, to the incremental, too-slow but essential progress we’ve made since then, and to the progress we must make in the future.
Well, now I really know what it is to be ashamed of my country. If I was reluctant to say “proud to be an American” before, this election has made me want to bury my head in the sand, bang it against a wall. If we can choose Donald Trump over the eminently qualified, unbelievably poised, clearly competent—and, yes, perhaps unexciting and certainly flawed—Hillary Clinton, for whom I was sure I would cheer as she broke through the glass ceiling of the Javits Center, it’s not the country I thought I knew. We are not the people I thought I knew.
This election was never about me. I, and most people I know, will hardly be affected by Trump’s presidency in any tangible way. For families torn apart, for women denied access to healthcare, for Muslims whose home feels less and less welcoming, I am scared. And I am sorry.

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