Although I love my country as much as the next guy, I’m just not the flag waving type. Even on the Fourth of July, I’m not the sort to dress up in red, white, and blue, and if I hear Lee Greenwood proclaim one more time how proud he is to be an American, I might puncture my own ear drums. So, I was a bit surprised when, while out on a morning jog, a man in a pickup truck blew his horn at me and shouted, “America!” as he passed and as if a noun can be a sentence. Out of conditioned politeness, I waved back. While still processing the man’s motivation for honking and hooting at me, I turned to see a Trump/Pence bumper sticker affixed to the truck’s back window. I laughed and thought, “If only he knew.”
Then it suddenly dawned on me that I was wearing a red, white, and blue t-shirt (see photo above) with the word “Americans” across the front in script and that it was what had inspired the man’s assumed bond of fraternity with me as fellow Trump zealots, which I’ll just say I am not and leave it at that. However, the “Americans” on the shirt actually represents the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, not America, the beautiful. I laughed at the misunderstanding and continued my run.
My next realization, however, was a sad one. This stranger had clearly conflated my red, white, and blue Americans t-shirt with his own passion for President Trump, as if anyone of a different political persuasion could not possibly be wearing those colors. In his mind, those colors, Americanism, and a liberal mindset were exclusive to like-minded folk on the right of the political spectrum and off-limits to those on the left.
This realization brought to mind the numerous red, white, and blue flags I’ve seen – emblazoned with the President’s name, image, or a slogan flying from poles attached to homes, trucks, and even boats – and it caused me a measure of chagrin. I’m not sure with whom I was more disappointed: right wingers for co-opting the colors and the notion of American pride or left-leaning folks like me for allowing it to happen.
“Folks like me” love our country just as much as that man in his pickup, and we too believe it to represent mankind’s best stab yet at forming a just body politic. We do not, however, think Her to be above criticism or the need for on-going improvement. America reminds me of my best students, who, although they are already receiving ninety-five percents, we both know they are capable of earning ninety-eights or ninety-nines. I’m equally demanding of them, if not more, as I am of the students earning seventy-five percents. However, I’m much more disappointed in those same “A” students when they fail to live up to their promise. Potential is both a blessing and a curse.
Although America is a noun and cannot be a one-word imperative sentence, the truth is that man in the pickup was correct, even if not for the reason he believed. We are brothers as members of the same American family. It is my responsibility to respect him as a person while not necessarily respecting his ideas or agreeing with his passion for the President and his policies. I can only hope that he would provide me the same measure of what should be common courtesy. Any other response only undermines and weakens the country we both claim to love.
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