I recall, on this July 4, feeling distinctly less patriotic, less proud of our nation and less hopeful for the future than in years past. I look around at what the United States has become and question if we’ve truly lost our way and will we ever recover.
We are building concentration camps to house Central American immigrants and refugees.
Poverty is rampant through our cities, with one in four Americans having less than $1,000 and 40 percent unable to pay for even a $400 emergency.
Rampant greed and unchecked corruption have shredded our democratic institutions and we celebrate police and soldiers instead of artists and scientists.
How America has fallen. There is no doubt that war and capitalism have driven our politics and society, but it has not always been so.
For all its flaws, our nation has an incredible history of progressive policy and technological advancement that the few other countries in the world can rival. We created the New Deal and developed our nation’s first social services to help our friends and neighbors out of poverty. Harry Truman developed international support to found the United Nations, our world’s first chance at a truly unified government body.
We pioneered spaceflight and exploration with the Apollo program. We created the first computer networks and gave birth to a technology that changed human life as we know it.
These advances, which have brought people and nations together to accomplish feats that nothing else could, are what define us as a nation and as a people.
What made America exceptional wasn’t its potential for war and conquest, but its ability to bring others together with a vision of a greater future. Its founding conceit that this nation is greater than the sum of its parts, and our strength is in our diversity. But we’ve forgotten that foundation of progress today, substituting it instead for one built on fear, weapons manufacturing and unchecked greed.
To say we haven’t been warned is laughably foolhardy. Marine Commandant Smedly Butler warned us about war profiteering in 1935 with War is a Racket. President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex in 1961. Even Edward R. Murrow warned us of the danger of mass media and its ability to pacify and trivialize public discourse.
Their prophetic words — ignored at the time — now ring unmistakably true in 2019, when we lack the funds to educate our citizens but have no trouble spending trillions on an experimental aircraft that can barely operate.
And while our country falls to pieces around us, Republicans and our national leader celebrate America’s ability to cause death and destruction on an unprecedented scale.
We celebrate authority and strength, not innovation and creativity. We live in a nation of fear — fear of immigrants, fear of terrorism, fear of each other — and our leaders and role-models have twisted that fear into a weapon to create one of the largest prison and surveillance states in the world.
This commentary is no call for civility or decorum, no appeal to our better angels. It is a warning and contextualization of how far we have strayed from our ideals and visions of a better tomorrow. The fact that we question whether the detention centers on the border qualify as “concentration camps” should raise dozens of red flags.
This is a call to remind those of us still fighting — those who still believe in our ideals of compassion, truth, beauty and progress — to call out fascist apologism for what it is.
Because a lot more is at stake today than not offending your uncle at the dinner table.
Ross Coyle is a Salt Lake City-based writer and photographer focusing on the environment, outdoors, policy and arts and culture. Read more of his work at www.rosscoylmedia.com