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  • Jan Flynn

Tomorrow’s Your Birthday, America!

I Still Love You. But It’s Time To Grow Up Now.

Like all newborns, America, when you struggled into existence you were amazing and unique and full of promise. You were also a bloody mess. It took a lot to nurture you through your initial stages — for one thing, you were nearly strangled in your cradle in 1812, and that was only one of many crises in your tumultuous babyhood. Meanwhile you were laden with the hopes and dreams, the passionate beliefs and aspirations — often conflicting — of everyone who had a stake in your upbringing.

Luckily, you had a singular advantage. Those who had ushered you into being had the exceptional judgment to draft a set of agreements to guide you as you grew, which you did with unforeseen speed and exuberance. You were equipped with a vision statement, a Constitution intended to shape your character while circumventing the venal, short-sighted, or rapacious instincts that some might use to tempt you off your path for their own selfish ends.

Unlike so many nations, your identity was not founded on blunt might, nor on a claim of God-given monarchy. Your life was based on principles, on guideposts that were intended to grow as you did. These were radical ideas for the time: a nation whose people were created equal, with inborn rights to life and liberty and self-determination, with a government based on the consent of the governed.

You went through awkward phases, clumsy phases, dangerous phases. Like many a gifted child, you were capable of brilliance and brutality at the same time. At your best you were a fountain of innovation and progress, a beacon of democracy and opportunity that drew tired, hungry, huddled masses to your shores, people eager to contribute to your vision of a country that promised greater tolerance and fairness than the regimes they fled.

At your worst, you’ve been capable of savagery on a grand scale, creating self-inflicted wounds — slavery, the near-extermination of your native peoples, a divisiveness so dire that it nearly tore you apart — that have yet to heal.

Yet while you’ve fallen short of your ideals at points as you’ve grown, you’ve shown greatness. You sacrificed grievously to defend your allies from the advance of systemic evil in World War II. You built bridges and canals and alliances that served far more than your own interests. You defeated smallpox and polio. You went to the moon.

Now, at age 243, it is reasonable to expect from you some maturity. I do love you, America, but the time has come to stop acting like an entitled thug. Enough with the name-calling, the incivility, the dismantling of protections of our land and water and rights, the puerile disregard for our long-held assumptions of basic decency and fair play. Enough with the mindlessly cruel and destructive behavior done in our name, the subversion of things you’re supposed to stand for. Taking kids away from their families at the border. Jailing pregnant women for being shot or falling downstairs. Cozying up to tyrants. Honestly, America, sometimes when I read the news I barely recognize you.

A decision point is coming. All of us who call you home have a critical choice to make, and its outcome will determine your nature going forward. Will you follow the path of previous republics and descend into fervid nationalism as a belligerent empire? Or will you once again defy the odds and come through the crisis to expand into the full realization of your founding vision?

The outcome is far from certain. But I’m not giving up on you. Happy birthday, America. Now grow up already.

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