How do you lose something you never had in the first place? How do you mourn something that never existed?
I have been struggling with this concept for a long time, but especially since November of 2016. My disillusionment with the history and politics of my home country has been a gradual process, but during the general election of 2016 I felt something snap. I had an instinct and a desire to mourn the state of US democracy, but what was I mourning? What had we lost, besides our naiveté? My brain raced after a time when things were better, simpler, more innocent. That train of thought always arrived, devoid of redemptive cargo, at the very inception of this country.
When I think of the United States of America that I love, I need to invent one. I must imagine it, because this country has only ever been lovable if its system of White patriarchy afforded you a seat at the table, and if you were able to ignore or compartmentalize the atrocities that built and perpetuated a republic that has only ever given lip service to its lofty ideals. The US has experienced moments of glory and housed individuals of great character, but the project as a whole has never been great, not even for one moment, because it is built on unreconciled genocide, unapologetic colonization, hungry imperialism and White supremacy.
How could we possibly be surprised at our present crises when we wrote it this way from the very beginning? Our doom was foreshadowed long ago; the trees we planted in blood-filled soil bore poisoned fruit, and somehow we are surprised at the taste.
I’ve realized that a better word for what I’m experiencing is that of anemoia, a nostalgia for a time I’ve never known. It’s like a variant of the German fernweh, except their farsickness is in my case not based on distance but on metaphor. The Welsh have something similar called hiraeth, a longing for a home that might not even exist.
This imaginary country that I am proud of does exist, if only hypothetically. It exists out of necessity, because the hope that we can actually become the thing we claim to be is a survival mechanism. Right now the America that I love is a fantasy, and to get out of bed in the morning I must believe that it might, if we work together, become something real.
The America that I love finally (finally!) acknowledges the subjugation and continued diminishment of Native American peoples and their cultures and their way of life. It admits fully to the horrors of slavery and the institutionalized racism that has taken its place. The America that I love offers reparations for its crimes, and begins finally to support and love and represent the Black and Brown communities to which it owes more than it can ever repay. The America that I love becomes a leader in the efforts against climate change; it preserves the natural world so that we too might be preserved. The country in my head begins a hard global conversation about fundamentally reworking capitalism to move away from GDP-obsessed systems of voracious growth, and begins a period of sustainable degrowth that might finally find a balance between economy and survival.
The America that I love takes care of the health of its people and stops selling it to the highest bidder. It redistributes the wealth of its citizens and starts representing the 99% for a change. It finally admits that the war on drugs was a conflict started in bad faith against its own people, and it starts re-enfranchising its lost generations of Black men. It abolishes its brutal system of global imperialism and leads with diplomacy and soft power and humanitarianism. It actually allows for religious freedoms instead of using such terms to discriminate and spread hate—the place I am dreaming of does not make income or skin color or sexual orientation a barrier to human rights. In that country, queer and trans people are allowed to live the joy-filled lives that are their inalienable right. That country leads in technologies of the future and doesn’t sacrifice its soul for profit. It reforms its education systems and starts paying teachers what they’re worth.
The America that I love welcomes immigrants who strengthen and enrich our culture and economy. This country is Black and Brown and White and everything in between. This hypothetical state believes in science and shared truth. It embraces democratic systems by giving every citizen one equal vote, and it undoes the damage that neoliberal corporatocracy has wreaked on our elections and way of life. The America that I love abolishes its inhumane meat industry and prioritizes the health of its land and its workers and its livestock. It takes care of the veterans who served because they too believed in an imaginary homeland—one that would take care of them and their families when they returned from fighting the wars of the rich.
This is a country that I could love. This might make me finally raise a flag. This would make the Fourth of July something other than a grotesque pantomime. This is what it would take for me to feel pride in the land of my birth, finally and at long last.
We have never been the country we claim to be, but the America that I love is out there—we just need to go get it.