A Letter To America

Raphael Alegbeleye/PantherNOW

Guido Gonzalez/Assistant Entertainment Director

Dear, America,

Your Independence Day evokes a plethora of hedonistic sensations. The sizzling scent of backyard barbeque grills, the kaleidoscopic and deafening displays of fireworks, the rippling red, white, and blue of the good ol’ stars and stripes waving in the whirlwinds of patriotism.

But I’m afraid the sugary and salty opiates of junk food and self-righteous gospels of mass consumption do little to dull my senses nowadays. As the years pass, my tolerance against your figurative morphine builds. The numbing tide recedes, and like a fleet of plastic litter, reality washes ashore. 

It has now been 244 years since your birth. Dread, uncertainty and anger plague my psyche. Yet strangely, for some reason, as the days leading to the fourth shrank into hours, themselves shrinking into minutes, I began to recall a scene from Aaron Sorkin’s HBO journalism drama, “The Newsroom.”

It has now been 244 years since your birth. Dread, uncertainty and anger plague my psyche.

In the first ten minutes of the pilot, Will McAvoy, a republican-in-name-only news anchorman—an Emmy winning role for the phenomenal Jeff Daniels—is participating in a televised debate, and is innocently asked by a naive college student, “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” 

Just before he answers, he spots a woman holding up a sign. It only said two words: 

“It’s Not.” 

After several failed attempts to give a safe, politically correct answer, McAvoy then launches himself into a tirade against America and all its current issues, whilst audience members and participants alike record the ensuing verbal bomb drop with their smartphones; no doubt this would be a viral sensation.  

If you’re familiar with Sorkin’s previous—and far more idealistic—network Emmy juggernaut, “The West Wing,” the writing’s sudden kamikaze dive into the sprawling sea of cynicism was a baseball bat’s strike to my gut.

I found McAvoy’s standout line, “America is not the greatest country on earth,” to be as admirably bold as it was obscenely shocking; as unapologetically honest as it was powerfully insightful. Suffice to say, the cognitive dissonance that followed and festered in my then-14-year-old mind permanently altered my perception of the prosperous, the virtuous, the free and the brave United States of America.

But this wasn’t the case for the second half. Near the end of the rant, McAvoy pauses, having just unloaded a torrent of pent-up frustration over our nation’s ongoing strife. A second, two seconds, silence passes, and then he gives off a sobering sigh and does a complete 180 degree turn. 

“It sure used to be,” McAvoy said, his voice weighed down by pained, palpable longing. Speaking as though he had lived through the withering death of Eden—a witnessed paradise, forever lost.

And cue the hopeful music; the piano and its derivative notes of empowerment, the swelling crescendo of the pointlessly poignant soundtrack. McAvoy, having vented and purged of all frustrations, reminisces on the country’s admirable achievements and virtues previously held in high esteem. 

Now, in 2020, jaded to such a point that I might as well be an ancient relic from The Western Han Dynasty, I realize that’s a steaming load. As a stone-cold and ruthless realist, Sorkin lost my respect. 

“It sure used to be…” 

I am not ignorant of your accomplishments, America. There were many times when you set the highest standards possible for everything under the twin suns of art and science. The ideas of which you’ve utilized and put into practice was an abstract asteroid’s impact whose tangible shockwaves of progress still linger in the very atmosphere today. 

But the truth—the red herring of McAvoy’s memorable soliloquy—is not whole. The problem with the truth is that we never accept it as a whole. Everything that McAvoy said and Sorkin wrote is true. But it isn’t everything. Sometimes you have to take the camera lens and zoom out—see the bigger picture. 

The simple, shameful truth is this: Then and now, you are not great. You are a natural paradox; a storm of constant contradictions. Insane. Bipolar.

The simple, shameful truth is this: Then and now, you are not great. You are a natural paradox; a storm of constant contradictions. Insane. Bipolar. This word, “GREAT,” is a word bereft of morality. It can preface a moment of peace and an age of war. It names benevolent all-loving rulers, and cruel, vicious tyrants. It describes what we know and what we don’t (and fear).

You are a nation whose backbones are the enlightened ideals necessary for the advancement of civilization, but your foundation is a flimsy base of battlefields, brutality, and blood. 

You extend one hand in rescue, so that the masses who seek your refuge may take it in gratitude. In another hand you hold a noose, well-worn and stained dark. 

You promote peacekeeping and decry oppression, and yet you fetishize violence and enable dictatorships. 

You’ve advanced science and produced some of the greatest minds the world has ever known, and yet you crusade against common sense, and belittle intelligence as though it is beneath you.  

You are loving. You are hateful. You are welcoming. You are hostile. You are proud. You are ashamed. Reasonable. Irrational. Giving. Greedy. 

You were the friend I drifted apart from, now the cold, loveless stranger I reunite with. A sobered relative filled with promise, who once again fell off the wagon and gave in to the enticing drug of power. 

You were the occidental Emerald City of Oz, the Promised Land, a Zion just beyond the desolate horizon. Now, you are the laughingstock of the world. A teenager’s recurring nightmare of going to school in their underwear, everyone looking, pointing and laughing. You are a greased slide, spiraling down into the schizophrenic static of madness, and we are all sliding down, shrieking our heads off; clawing, climbing, and falling, down is the only direction we go. 

I will not give in to that static. I will not bark out my fierce and frothing rage at you. I will not weep and embrace you with the hopes of unconditional love and pained sorrow moving your immobile stubbornness. I will not point my finger and blame all who do not think like me, unlike so, so many. And with all options having been exhausted, here is my Hail Mary.

I give you, the purpose of this letter, a statement of fact, America. Cold. Clinical. Undeniable. Whole. Pay attention, now… 

Get. Your. Sh*t. Together. 

Sincerely, 

A Patriot Who Still Cares.

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