On Love of Country

Is it possible to love America despite its horrifying flaws?

The+way+we+view+our+country+can+dramatically+shift+depending+on+the+current+political+climate.

illustration by Kristen Kinzler

The way we view our country can dramatically shift depending on the current political climate.

By Kristen Kinzler, North Allegheny Senior High School

I’ve heard many of my friends mention moving abroad after college. We’ve discussed New Zealand and the United Kingdom and Canada, citing the tolerant culture and superior social programs in those countries.

But, despite acknowledging that other countries often seem more peaceful and more fair than the United States, I cannot claim that I’ve ever actually wanted to live anywhere else. Besides potentially studying abroad, I’ve always wanted to spend most of my life in America.

Considering the fact that I’m disgusted by our government’s botched pandemic response, embarrassing health care system, and general lack of empathy, that’s a big statement for me to make.

I grew up believing in the American dream. I was taught that this country is a place where anyone can be whomever they want to be. I’ve spent most of my life reading the newspaper with my grandpa and being inspired by journalism and our freedom of press. Everywhere I’ve ever traveled in this country, I’ve been amazed by the people I’ve met and the stories they tell.

However, the past few years have shaken my faith in the American endeavor. President Donald Trump’s actions and the ideologies they’ve shone a light on have horrified me. The fact that he received over 74 million votes in November makes me sick. And nothing broke my heart more than seeing the attack on the Capitol building yesterday, led by Trump supporters wielding weapons and Confederate flags.

I’m conflicted. I don’t know how to be optimistic about a country that seems so dark and hypocritical and bigoted. It’s impossible to ignore the violence and hate.

Our president essentially encouraged a coup, and some of his supporters actually followed his orders.

Of course, this country was broken long before Trump ever took office. From its very founding, there has been systematic racism, sexism, and classism. 

But, despite it all, I can’t help but admire the idea of America. I commend the freedom and the promise to welcome everyone with open arms and the guarantee that hard work can lead to prosperity. I’m holding on to those values, even if they don’t always come to fruition and even though I am hurt by the current state of our nation. I refuse to let them go.

I’m holding on to those values, even if they don’t always come to fruition and even though I am hurt by the current state of our nation. I refuse to let them go.”

All I can think about is how I love the small diners and the Americana music and the national parks and the coastlines. I love the summer carnivals and the barbecues and the broken asphalt highways that criss-cross the county. I love the literature and the TV shows and the folklore. I love the variety of people and the obvious fire in their souls. 

So, I’m not just angry when I see what’s happening. I’m devastated. It feels like the president and the mob attacking the Capitol building twisted everything I loved about this country into something horrifically ugly.

How can I love America in spite of our embarrassingly reckless government? How can I defend a place that is so consumed with hate and division?

It’s simple — I can’t. And it breaks my heart.

It’s perfectly normal to not want to be an American right now. It’s probably what you should be feeling. But I’m trying my very best to not let Trump and his hooligans make me forget about all of the good that is here.

I don’t mean the government. I’m not making excuses for the horrible people who inhabit America. They are dangerously real threats.

But if there are atrocious human beings slithering all over this country, there must also be good people who stand up for what’s right.

Trust me, I’m far from an optimist, and I’m not saying this is a glass-half-full situation. The good people do not automatically negate the bad. What happened yesterday is inexcusable, and, in the past twenty four hours, it has felt nearly impossible to find anything I love about America.

But it’s a simple fact. Even when everything feels hopeless, good people exist here, too. 

My favorite place in the world is a small town in rural New York that sits on Lake Erie. When I’m there, I know that I love this country, and I know that I’ll likely never leave. The town contains tiny back roads and local businesses and people who will do just about anything to help out. There is natural beauty and a sense of community and a simplicity that feels so innately American. 

I’m thinking of that small town a lot today. I’m trying to remind myself of the good — of the incredible people who keep this country going and who make it so wonderful.

The people who define this country are not the politicians. They are not the people attacking the Capitol building. They are not the people burning Black Lives Matter signs at churches. 

They’re the people going to work every day and smiling at strangers at the grocery store and shoveling the snow on their elderly neighbor’s driveway. They’re the people demanding equal rights and starting small businesses and accomplishing their dreams. They’re the brave first responders and journalists and essential workers.

Somewhere down the line, I think I’ll choose not to give up on my imperfect home. ”

I denounce Trump, and I despise the fact that our healthcare system is broken, and I am disgusted by the inequality and discrimination in this country. But I will never be ashamed to admit that I am an American.

Raphael Warnock won the Senate special election in Georgia yesterday, and he became the first Black Democratic senator elected in the South. In his remarks, he mentioned that his mother spent her adolescence picking cotton.

“But the other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that comment made me tear up. After feeling so hopeless about the United States for so long, it felt revitalizing to be reminded of the progress that we are capable of making. Our country has work to do, but we also have a lot of potential.

So, today, I am disappointed and disheartened by what happened in Washington. We all should be. But somewhere down the line, I think I’ll choose not to give up on my imperfect home. 

Call me crazy, but I might still believe in the American endeavor, even if it currently feels like it’s all falling apart.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on January 7, 2021.