America is so vast that there is almost too much to say about it. It spans mind-boggling distances not only geographically but also politically, culturally, and spiritually.
The fact that these diverse corners of our spinning planet are bound together into one single united (forgive me) nation defies all odds. But oh boy does it feel comfortable as hell. I can read all the signs and we have a very nice interstate highway system.
I have always found myself grateful when looking at a map of the world. Other countries are the size of our states. Some of them landlocked! Others aberrations; clearly sliced from larger countries in wars I would never be taught. Almost none of them are as large as the one I was born into. I wonder what their road trips must be like.
Sometimes when I’m doing a long drive, I picture showing my passport and submitting to inspections every time I cross a state line. (I’ve only ever encountered highway checkpoints in Arizona and Washington, but that seemed more like bad luck than any sort of far-reaching policy)
The fact you can go from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Pacific without leaving the country or ever having to eat anything but McDonalds is another blessing. I don't even like McDonalds that much.
You find yourself very proud of American ingenuity when you see a brightly-lit, open McDonalds in the desert at 3AM two thirds through a cross country trip.
We have found some very specific things to become extraordinarily good at as a nation.
Fast cars, delicious food, large guns, hot (blonde) women. We invented a nebulous term, a vaporous aspiration we call "The American Dream" which in fact just means whatever dream you find in your head in any particular moment.
If your dream involves destroying something (yourself?) in some way, all the better. You worked hard today, didn't you? (Doesn’t matter, in hard times relax from the inter-generational labor of your ancestors or whatever.)
Despite an obsession in equal parts with working hard and relaxing hard, which seems healthy to me, America has torn itself into knots culturally.
I keep wondering what can still unify us.
The powers that be seem to have fracked out every possible wedge that could be driven. Optimized by demographic groups and personal interests and TV preferences. Here we are, splintered, yelling at each other online (it does feel good if you’re in the right mood).
Can you imagine people used to ask their neighbors for sugar?
On May 1st in New York City in 2017 I found a group of Trump supporters surrounded by police, yelling insults and joking chants at the much larger crowd passing, assembled to celebrate May Day or International Workers’ Day (celebrated by socialists, communists, and all stripes of leftists).
The vulgar teenagers I encountered waved around a variety of flags and signs with symbols that referenced Trump and very online alt-right 4chan memes in equal measure. One was a green flag for “kekistan” a meme-joke-fictional country. The flag’s design modeled on a 1930s Nazi war flag^https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichskriegsflagge#/media/File:War_Ensign_of_Germany_(1935-1938\).svg, a wink to very-online wannabe fascists in the know.
They were all young men, some white, a few latino, a few with yarmulkes on their heads. They laughed with glee as they shouted meta self-referential memes.
Most wore bright red hats with white lettering on the front. Some had camelbaks with enormous rubbery straws hanging off their shoulders, optimizing the process through which they could wet their mouths and yell profanities with as little downtime as possible.
They stood on that street corner yelling things that were mostly meaningless to the people they were yelling at.
They were caught in a self-referential möbius strip; baffled and overjoyed when people occasionally got provoked and came over to yell back (usually equally incomprehensible things). The police halfheartedly shooed their would-be opponents away, telling them to get back to the sidewalk across the street, away from the red hat assemblage surrounded by the metal fencing surrounded by New York’s finest.
They kept thanking the police who were around to protect them. They seemed to be guessing that the cops were fellow Trump supporters. They gave off a a vibe they thought they were saying the things the cops were thinking but weren't allowed to say.
It seemed to me like they loved the fight as much – if not more than – the ideals they were fighting for.
As I watched New Yorkers scream at each other, I wondered what could possibly make this situation better. There aren’t even any shared heroes left, I don’t think- that all Americans respect anymore. Mr. Rogers is gone.
Maybe Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Or Keanu Reeves. Others have suggested Joe Rogan, Judge Judy, and Oprah. None of these seem like the silver bullet I’m really looking for.
Maybe if Bernie Sanders would star in some Fast & Furious movies we could get somewhere.