I was raised in high-school-football-country. On Friday nights all over high-school-football-country the stands are filled with diehard fans and kids screaming, “We’re number one, we’re number one.” They don’t scream this based on the score board. They don’t scream this based on the record. They scream this because that is what they have always screamed; what they have been conditioned to scream. They wear the school colors. They chant what the cheerleaders direct them to chant and even if the team is getting its butt kicked on the field, loyalty demands that they still crow about being number one. If you stop cheering or even question why you are cheering the crowds can get ugly.
Over the past thirty years by almost every positive measure of success the United States has been in decline. Remarkably this began about the same time that cheerleading and ignoring the score board got to be confused with patriotism. We began wrapping ourselves in the team colors, pulling our shoulders back and, loudly and factlessly asserting that we are number one. Official policies have us consuming more, manufacturing less and educating less effectively but somehow doing anything other than following the things that hastened the decline meant you were unfaithful to the team. Somehow making shared sacrifices and shared investments in things that could return you to number one became unpatriotic. To continue the analogy, noticing that the popular quarterback was selfishly hogging the ball and causing the team to lose meant you were disloyal or envious.
I love my country the United States and I truly hope that this race to the bottom ends soon. I long for the day when it will again be accepted that dissent truly is the highest form of patriotism. When we recognize that flying the flag is an empty gesture if it is not backed with a loving but honest look at who we are and where we want to go together as a team; when we accept the reality that playing as a team served us well for most of our history; when we realize that being number one is okay but good sportsmanship counts even more; when we start putting predatory capitalists in jail instead of worshiping them; when we realize that a safety net and thoughtful regulation create a positive environment for small entrepreneurs; when we quit demonizing each other and work together for the team.
We know what it takes to fix things and it isn’t even more deficit creating tax cuts or pretending corporations are people. Why have we suddenly decided to play games and ignore reality or pretend it really doesn’t matter? We are still great! We just need to fix what is broken and start working together for everyone.