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The Americans we once were … and will be again

In May 2007, my disillusionment with George Bush, with the wars, with the apathy of my country, and probably with myself, reached an all-time high. I wrote a couple of columns back to back — i.e., yesterday’s blog posting What Kind of American Are You? — that called Americans out on the carpet for their inertia in regard to the war called and the reaction was, well, pretty strong. The following column was my response to the many emails and letters I received.

Now our nation is at the eve of the inauguration of a man who, while no panacea and no demi-god among humans, idoes seem capable of inspiring Americans to be our best, or at least our better, selves, and I’d like to think this 2007 column was a prescient look to 2009. Here’s hoping!
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The Americans we once were … and still could be again.

My columns have often edged toward the controversial, but no column has ever generated as much strongly worded reader response – positive and negative – as the May 24th column where I suggested that Americans should “walk” their “talk” in support of wartime troops.

The large majority of readers who wrote, including some veterans, felt my column was right on the mark; others were less favorably inclined.

One reader called the column “dribble” — though surely he meant “drivel.” One accused me of endangering troops and supporting “the enemy.” Another blasted me for being a self-centered, whining coward, hiding behind my keyboard.

My critics demanded to know: “What kind of American are you, Ms. Coolidge?”

The answer is I don’t know what kind of American I am … but I know what kind I want to be.

I don’t know what kind of American I am because America no longer has a defining character.

We were a nation, once, of people who worked hard, saved for luxuries, ate meals together, deplored cheating in any sense, and cultivated the intellect and spirit of our nation and ourselves.

We were a nation, once, possessed of a general decorum, reasonable manners, and a more worldly understanding and attitude toward nations other than our own.

We were a nation, once, some might have called an empire. We behaved, spoke, wrote, thought, and governed, for the most part, as a nation and a people worthy of our esteemed status and role on the world stage.

But in today’s cop-out culture, what makes an American?

Is an American the neighbor watering his lawn without regard for water restrictions? Or maybe an American is the man who’s not your husband that you’re sleeping with every other Friday at lunch? Are you an American if you spell “through” as “thru? Is Rosie O’Donnell as much an American as Elisabeth Hasselbeck?

Am I less of an American because I’m dissentient? Or are my critics more American because they dissent my dissension?

The definition of being an American I cling to most is that Americans are people of action.

And, despite my love affair with words, I believe action is the essential outcome of thought, of talk, of putting pen to page. Without action, we’re just a bunch of talking heads spouting empty words.

Robert F. Kennedy reminded us that our collective history is written by our individual actions.

I don’t want America to wait for history. I don’t want some future judgment of our character. I want us to judge ourselves now and find those selves wanting.

I crave an America that recaptures its courage. I yearn for people who value real life over reality television. I’m desperate for people who can discuss the literature or newspaper they’re reading as opposed to – or at least in addition to — the “Desperate Housewives” or YouTube they’re watching.

I long for an American nation that reattaches itself to the rigors of intelligent living, a nation of activists over apathists, a nation that prides itself on character over caricature.

It takes uniquely American spirit and action and smarts – both street and book – to make a nation as great as this one once was … and still could be.

That’s the kind of America I want to believe in. That’s the kind of American I want to be.

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Posted on January 14th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
One Response to The Americans we once were … and will be again
  1. […] Less than a week before the big inauguration, MC takes a look back at a column she scripted in May 2007 after she got some nasty responses for previous political […]

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