MyAmericanFuture

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Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30, 2012: April 2012 Recap

The month that was in American Studying:

April 2: Fools Rush In: A week of April Fool’s-inspired posts starts with one on fighting the good fight, Albion Tourgée, and A Fool’s Errand.

April 3: Seward’s Folly: On what we can learn from how, when, and why Alaska, Hawai’I, and Maine entered the U.S.

April 4: Melville’s Confidence Man: On the funny and significant American takeaways from Herman Melville’s complex satirical novel.

April 5: Nobody’s Fool: On some American Studies lessons from the funny and touching Paul Newman-starring film.

April 6: American Satire: The April Fool’s series ends with five great works of American satire from across the centuries.

April 7-8: March 2012 Recap: A belated recap of March on the blog.

April 9: Poems I Love, Part One: A National Poetry Month series kicks off with Randall Jarrell.

April 10: Poems I Love, Part Two: The series continues with my vote for most underrated American poet, Sarah Piatt.

April 11: Poems I Love, Part Three: Stephen Crane’s dark and cynical, yet perhaps still hopeful, entry in the series.

April 12: Poems I Love, Part Four: Joy Harjo and a poem that’s just pitch-perfect.

April 13: Poems I Love, Part Five: My amazing colleague and friend Ian Williams rounds out the week.

April 14-15: Taxing Poems: To follow up the week but also in honor of Tax Day, five more poems that’ll tax you in the best sense.

April 16: The Hard Way: In honor of Patriot’s Day, a repeat of one of my favorite posts, on George R.R. Martin and patriotism.

April 17: How Would a Patriot Act? Part One: A series on genuine American patriots kicks off with my 17th century nominee, Squanto.

April 18: How Would a Patriot Act? Part Two: An 18th century genuine American patriot, Quock Walker.

April 19: How Would a Patriot Act? Part Three: A 19th century genuine American patriot, Yung Wing.

April 20: How Would a Patriot Act? Part Four: A 20th century genuine American patriot, César Chávez.

April 21-22: How Would a Patriot Act? Part Five: A 21st century genuine American patriot, you!

April 23: Great American Stories, Part One: Joyce Carol Oates kicks off a series on great American short stories.

April 24: Great American Stories, Part Two: The week’s next great short story, courtesy of Jhumpa Lahiri.

April 25: Great American Stories, Part Three: Kate Chopin’s ambiguous, controversial, and sexy as hell entry in the week’s series.

April 26: Great American Stories, Part Four: Sui Sin Far’s tragic, biting, and deeply significant contribution to the series.

April 27: Great American Stories, Part Five: F. Scott Fitzgerald ends the week with a very representative and moving story.

April 28-29: Great American Writers, Right Now: Five talented, up-and-coming young writers who also happen to be students of mine at Fitchburg State University!

The week’s series starts tomorrow!

Ben

PS. Any subjects you’d like to see in this space? Or that you’d like to contribute guest posts on?

4/30 Memory Day Nominee: Muddy Waters, the blues and rhythm & blues guitarist and legend without whom rock and roll, popular music, and 20th century American culture would likely have been very different, and much less interesting.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 28-29, 2012: Great American Writers, Right Now

To follow up this week’s series on five very talented American authors and five of their best short stories, and make clear how much these traditions continue—as well as how lucky I am to have the gig I do—here, in no particular order, are five great young authors who happen to be students of mine to boot:
1)      Maranda Cucchiara: Like each of the first four student writers here, Maranda is a graduating senior in our English Studies department; her focus has been on Professional Writing, and as that website and her soon-to-be released novel Vivian, Falling reflect, she’s already well on her way to the professional part (having been working on the writing part for a long time now).
2)      Tyler Welsh: Tyler is many things—a very talented actor and director who has been an integral part of our FSU Theater program throughout his time here, a funny funny guy whose podcasts make excellent use of that sense of humor, a pop culture connoisseur and critic, and just a unique and compelling voice. I expect big things!
3)      Kristina Testagrossa:  As is the case for a lot of the talented young writers and artists I’ve met, Kristina’s creative writing is developing alongside a number of other interests—her candlemaking company, her journalistic work (such as the pieces for the Fitchburg State student newspaper linked at her site), her blogging. Old-school writers might see that as a description of someone focused too broadly—but I see it as a body of work that she’ll carry forward into her future career, whatever it includes.
4)      Rob Gosselin: Rob’s a seriously multi-talented guy too, as that website reflects. But if I had to bet on what he’ll be most successful doing (while still doing all these other things too, ‘cause that’s how he rolls), I’d go with poet. He’s hugely talented, but most of all what I see is the passion he has for it—for writing it, for reading it, for hearing it, for being around it. Rob had another career before coming back to school, and I think his poetry feels like a gift to him—and it does to me too!
5)      Jessica Gemmell Afshar: Jessica doesn’t have a website yet, but we’re working on that (UPDATE: Now she does, and it's at the link!). She’s been a student in the Fitchburg State MA in English program for a few years now, and is about ready to finish her Master’s and figure out what’s next. I guarantee a couple things about that answer-in-progress: it’ll include writing across many genres (short fiction, creative non-fiction, literary and cultural analysis, poetry); and it’ll be compelling and engaging and fresh and well worth your time. Watch this space for more!
One of the best things about being a teacher is feeling that America’s future is in very good hands—and I’d say the same about American literature, thanks to folks like these young writers.
More next week,
Ben
PS. Any writers, young or not, whose work or voice you’d highlight?
4/28 Memory Day nominee: Harper Lee, who only published one novel, but what a powerful and significant American novel it is!
4/29 Memory Day nominee: Iwao Takamoto, the Japanese American animator who went from a childhood in the Manzanar internment camp to designing Scooby-Doo and Fred Flintstone, directing Charlotte’s Web, and positively influencing the lives and imaginations of countless millions of American children.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27, 2012: Great American Stories, Part Five

[As work on the writing project continues, this week’s brief posts will highlight some of my favorite American short stories, by some of our most talented authors in this unique and compelling genre. Suggestions, and even guest posts, very welcome as always!]

Today’s great American story is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s

”Babylon Revisited” (1931).

A perfect coda to the Roaring 20s, a pitch-perfect summation of the Lost Generation, and one of the most heartbreaking and compelling character portraits ever created.

Follow up post this weekend,

Ben

PS. Last chance for nominations that I can highlight this weekend!

4/27 Memory Day nominees: A tie between Ulysses S. Grant, not for his scandal-ridden and partially failed presidency, but for his crucial military savvy, his highly readable and powerful memoirs, and his impressive honesty and candor on complex national issues; and Coretta Scott King, whose work with her husband Martin Luther King, Jr., was only the beginning of her inspiring American life.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26, 2012: Great American Stories, Part Four

[As work on the writing project continues, this week’s brief posts will highlight some of my favorite American short stories, by some of our most talented authors in this unique and compelling genre. Suggestions, and even guest posts, very welcome as always!]

Today’s great American story is Sui Sin Far’s

“In the Land of the Free” (1912; starts on page 93 of that book).

Far wasn’t the most talented prose stylist, but I don’t know any American stories that capture America’s darker histories and realities, and their intersections with our ideals and hopes, better than this one. And if the last line doesn’t rip your heart out, then god, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.

Next story tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Almost your last chance for nominations!

4/26 Memory Day nominee: Frederick Law Olmstead, for all the reasons elucidated in that post!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25, 2012: Great American Stories, Part Three

[As work on the writing project continues, this week’s brief posts will highlight some of my favorite American short stories, by some of our most talented authors in this unique and compelling genre. Suggestions, and even guest posts, very welcome as always!]

Today’s great American story is Kate Chopin’s

“The Storm” (1898).

Chopin’s most famous story is “The Story of an Hour,” and it’s great too. But “The Storm” was so controversially great that it was never published in Chopin’s lifetime. Her final line certainly pushes on lots of boundaries, as does her story overall. But it’s also just amazingly rich and dense for such a short short story. What’s your take on the end?

Next story tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Again, what do you think? And nominations?

4/25 Memory Day nominee: Ella Fitzgerald! What else do I need to say?!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April 24, 2012: Great American Stories, Part Two

[As work on the writing project continues, this week’s brief posts will highlight some of my favorite American short stories, by some of our most talented authors in this unique and compelling genre. Suggestions, and even guest posts, very welcome as always!]

Today’s great American story is Jhumpa Lahiri’s

“A Temporary Matter” (1999).

I don’t think any American writer, past or present, can create a more perfect short story than Lahiri. If you ask me for my favorite of hers the answer would probably depend on the day—but certainly this one, the opener to her first collection, is always on the short list.

Next story tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Nominations?

4/24 Memory Day nominee: Robert Penn Warren, for his great American novel, his rich and evocative poetry, his pioneering literary scholarship, but most of all for his willingness to grow and deepen as an American historian and Studier (as I discuss in the blog post linked at his name).

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23, 2012: Great American Stories, Part One

[As work on the writing project continues, this week’s brief posts will highlight some of my favorite American short stories, by some of our most talented authors in this unique and compelling genre. Suggestions, and even guest posts, very welcome as always!]

Today’s great American story is Joyce Carol Oates’s

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” (1966)

Oates’s story sneaks up on you—it’s a deeply realistic slice-of-teenage-life story that becomes a compelling thriller, an American tragedy, and an ambiguous reflection on pop culture, identity, generational experience, and more.

Next story tomorrow,

Ben                                      

PS. Nominations?

4/23 Memory Day nominee: Avram Davidson, one of the pioneering American science fiction and fantasy authors, and one who integrated his Orthodox Judaism, his World War II naval service, his lifelong connection to New York City, and his interests in American history and community into his huge and rich body of works.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 21-22, 2012: How Would a Patriot Act? Part Five

[Still spending much of my blog-time working on a new writing project, about which I promise to say more when it’s possible to do so (as I know you’re on the edge of your e-seats). So to follow up Monday’s Patriot’s Day post, I’m going to steal my title from Glenn Greenwald’s great book and briefly highlight five genuinely and impressively patriotic past Americans, one per century. Nominations very welcome as always!]

This weekend’s genuinely patriotic American is you.

The problem with what I called (in Monday’s post) the “easy” version of American patriotism, the version that asks us to pledge allegiance, stand for the anthem, say “God Bless America” at the drop of a hat, and so on, is not that everybody can do it. The problem, as I see it, is that everybody can do it without much effort at all (other than the rote performance of those kinds of rituals), and certainly without thinking or critical engagement with complex questions and narratives, with defining debates over our ideals and our realities. The problem, in short, is that it’s easy—and, to quote from one of my favorite moments in American literature (a line from the culminating section of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony [1977]), “The only thing is: it has never been easy.”

So this is where you come in—you American Studiers, whoever and wherever you are. (And I should note that we’re working to create some sort of Guest Book for the website, because I really would love to know more about who and where you are—and in the meantime, please feel free just to introduce yourself in the comments!) If I could highlight one goal for my work on this site, I’d say the same thing that I’d say for my published writing and works in progress, for my work with students, for my work in the Adult Learning class this past winter, for everything I do these days as a professional and public scholar: to help people engage more fully, with more complexity, with our American histories and stories, our national identity and community. While of course I have my own ideas and arguments about those topics, at the end of the day I promise that I’m not trying to get everybody to buy into them—I can’t imagine a better America, in fact, than one in which we can all debate these questions, from positions of knowledge and engagement, of passion and empathy, of civic responsibility and personal stakes.

My guess, without knowing many of you personally yet (and again—introduce yourselves, please!), is that we’re all on the same page here. So the next step is to extend these efforts, to share these goals and ideals with more and more of our fellow Americans (and American Studiers everywhere). Am I asking you to send your friends and loved ones to this blog?? Maybe a bit. But mostly I’m just asking you to have these conversations, to do this work, in your ways and communities with your own voice, that is and will continue to be so crucial to our American future. I know it won’t be easy—it never has been—but I can’t imagine anything more important, nor more patriotic.

More next week,

Ben

PS. Any thoughts? Any patriotic Americans you’d nominate?

4/21 Memory Day nominees: A tie between John Muir, to my mind the single most inspiring and significant American naturalist; and Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun and anti-death penalty activist whose inspiring life and work was captured so well by Susan Sarandon.

4/22 Memory Day nominees: Two complex and talented American writers, Ellen Glasgow (whose portrayals of late 19th and early 20th century Southern society rival, in complexity, ambition, and power, those of her contemporary Wharton and her successor Faulkner) and Vladimir Nabokov (the Soviet exile turned scholar, translator, and hugely gifted creative writer who is so much more than just the author of Lolita).

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20, 2012: How Would a Patriot Act? Part Four

[Still spending much of my blog-time working on a new writing project, about which I promise to say more when it’s possible to do so (as I know you’re on the edge of your e-seats). So to follow up Monday’s Patriot’s Day post, I’m going to steal my title from Glenn Greenwald’s great book and briefly highlight five genuinely and impressively patriotic past Americans, one per century. Nominations very welcome as always!]

Today’s genuinely patriotic American is César Chávez.

I don’t have any illusions about how many Americans would disagree with me that a labor activist and leader, and one who did most of his work on behalf of migrant workers, undocumented immigrants, and other impoverished American communities, could be a unifying and inspiring figure. Our increasingly divided and partisan versions of American history (and everything else) have, I would argue, meant one of a couple things for how we remember inspiring recent patriots: either we create warm and fuzzy images of them that elide much of their greatness, as we have with Martin Luther King, Jr.; or many of us come to see them as a destructive force, as I believe is the case with Chávez.

But one of the central jobs of public American Studies scholarship, as I see it, is precisely to find those ways to do a couple difficult and even potentially contradictory things at the same time: to help us connect more fully and with more complexity to our national histories and stories, perhaps especially the dark and divisive ones; and to imagine and argue for unifying American communities and identities to which we can all connect as we move forward. And I think our most impressive and inspiring Americans offer a great opportunity to do just that: with King, for example, if we can remember both his impassioned stands against poverty, war, and other injustices and yet at the same time recognize his transcendent arguments for a universal, color-blind, whole national future and community, we have a model for both sides of this two-part process.

I’d say exactly the same for Chávez. It’s certainly fair to say that he wasn’t scared of a fight, of taking a stand, of being divisive or unpopular in service of his goals, even of appearing to be anti-American (at least if “American” means the government and its various extensions) as a result; there’s a reason why he, like King, was the target of FBI investigations for decades. But I would argue that such activism, far from seeking to undermine American identity or ideals, embraced and extended them; that, just like Quock Walker, Chávez worked to embody the Declaration of Independence’s arguments for equality, to live them in his own efforts and to help millions of other Americans connect to them as well. And as the ongoing work of his Foundation makes clear, those efforts, while focused on particular American communities, can and should be extended to every American, as an ideal embodiment of Bruce Springsteen’s idea that, “In the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.” Pretty patriotic concept, I’d say.

Final nominee this weeked,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

4/20 Memory Day nominee: Daniel Chester French, the supremely talented sculptor whose work on the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial is only the most famous of his many contributions to American art, culture, mythology, and identity.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19, 2012: How Would a Patriot Act? Part Three

[Still spending much of my blog-time working on a new writing project, about which I promise to say more when it’s possible to do so (as I know you’re on the edge of your e-seats). So to follow up Monday’s Patriot’s Day post, I’m going to steal my title from Glenn Greenwald’s great book and briefly highlight five genuinely and impressively patriotic past Americans, one per century. Nominations very welcome as always!]

Today’s genuinely patriotic American is Yung Wing.

I’ve written a lot, starting with that linked post (still my favorite blog post to date) and continuing into the project I’m working on right now, about Yung Wing’s amazing story and the many significant and powerful American stories to which it and he connect. Yung’s work founding the Chinese Educational Mission exemplifies his contributions to American identity on many levels: from the idea for the school, to bring more than one hundred young Chinese men to America and help create a trans-national and cross-cultural community through such connections; to the requirement that the students be allowed to attend West Point as part of their experiences; to the Celestials, the baseball team that the students formed and through which some of their most inspiring and heartbreaking (and profoundly American) moments occurred.

But Yung’s individual story and life feature many equally amazing American moments, and I want to reiterate and highlight two here. The first is his attempt to volunteer for the Union Army at the outset of the Civil War. Yung had been in America for less than two decades at that time, had graduated from Yale only a decade before (in 1850), and was still ostensibly a diplomatic representative of the Chinese government; yet at this moment of extreme national crisis, when many of his fellow Americans would buy their way out of enlistment, Yung volunteered to serve. He was turned down, which just goes to show how frequently our official national narratives (of patriotism and much else) have failed to recognize the best of what our nation is and can be. But official bigotry shouldn’t and can’t elide his individual patriotism and courage.

The second moment I want to highlight came even more directly in response to such official bigotry. As I traced at length in that blog post, the discrimination leading up to and culminating in the Chinese Exclusion Act destroyed Yung’s American life on two significant levels: it forced the closure of the Mission and the departure of its students; and it led to the revoking of Yung’s citizenship and his own forced exile from America. But when his younger son Bartlett was graduating from Yale in 1902, the next stage in the family’s multi-generational American story, Yung returned to attend; he came as a diplomatic guest, but from what I can tell he then stayed as an illegal immigrant, spending much of the final decade of his life in Connecticut (with, I devoutly hope, his wife and family). Am I arguing that an illegal immigration—during the first years when that concept had any meaning—was an inspiringly patriotic American act? You’re damn right I am.

Next nominee tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

4/19 Memory Day nominee: Eliot Ness, not only for his literally legendary work and ethic, but also for how much he reveals about America in the 1920s and 30s: Prohibition and organized crime, the rise of the FBI, changes in urban life and worlds, and more. (Here endeth the lesson.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18, 2012: How Would a Patriot Act? Part Two

[Still spending much of my blog-time working on a new writing project, about which I promise to say more when it’s possible to do so (as I know you’re on the edge of your e-seats). So to follow up Monday’s Patriot’s Day post, I’m going to steal my title from Glenn Greenwald’s great book and briefly highlight five genuinely and impressively patriotic past Americans, one per century. Nominations very welcome as always!]

Today’s genuinely patriotic American is Quock Walker.

I wrote a lot about the Revolutionary period’s African American slave petitions for freedom, of which Quock Walker’s is one of the most famous, in the blog post linked at his name above, and won’t repeat those specifics, or my sense of why those petitions embody the best of what the Revolution and its ideas and ideals meant, here.

But I will take things one step further, and ask this: what if we thought of Walker, and his fellow petitioners, as the Founding Fathers (and Mothers)? After all, the Declaration and Constitution were (as we’ve long acknowledged) based on existing ideas and writings, given new American form; and that’s exactly what Walker et al did with their petitions, taking the Declaration’s language and ideas and bringing them to powerful, eloquent, vitally American life.

Walker’s case is credited with helping end slavery in Massachusetts (a complicated question as they always are, but it contributed for sure). Using the Declaration to end part of the national tragedy with which it was intertwined? That’d be plenty patriotic enough on its own terms. But if we go bigger, if we see Walker and his peers as the true Founders, the most genuinely and impressively Revolutionary Americans, then our whole legacy of patriotism has a different, and even more inspiring, point of origin. Works for me.

Next nominee tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think?

4/18 Memory Day nominees: Two Americans ahead of their time, James McCune Smith (the first African American doctor but equally a pioneer in his activism, writings, and community leadership) and Clarence Darrow (the titanic legal mind whose arguments and voice advanced American society just as much as they did its legal debates).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 17, 2012: How Would a Patriot Act? Part One

[Still spending much of my blog-time working on a new writing project, about which I promise to say more when it’s possible to do so (as I know you’re on the edge of your e-seats). So to follow up Monday’s Patriot’s Day post, I’m going to steal my title from Glenn Greenwald’s great book and briefly highlight five genuinely and impressively patriotic past Americans, one per century. Nominations very welcome as always!]

Today’s genuinely patriotic American is Tisquantum, better known by the Anglicized name “Squanto.”

It’s fair to say that the whole tone of William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation—and also, quite literally, of the Pilgrims’ first experiences in America, as Bradford describes them at least—changes with the arrival of Squanto (paragraph 136 in that edition). From that first mention it’s clear that this is a man with a complex identity and perspective: he is described as “a native of this place” but also one who has “been in England,” and with his two languages he connects the Pilgrims to the local Wampanoag chief Massasoit, with whom they make their first peace treaty. And Bradford finds Squanto’s experiences, as a kidnapped slave turned explorer and translator, compelling enough to spend most of the rest of this chapter quoting another Englishman’s narrative of them.

Partly Bradford’s extended focus is due to his culturally myopic sense of Squanto as literally a gift from God, “a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.” Yet if we set aside the paternalism and, again, myopia necessary to define another person as an instrument for one’s own good, Bradford’s descriptions, coupled with the history provided in the extended narrative, can help us realize a striking and crucial fact: Squanto turned a horrific and traumatic set of experiences, ones based directly on cultural conflict and oppression, into a perspective and life that worked toward and indeed modeled cultural conversation and connection. He did so, it seems clear, for the good both of the Pilgrims and of the Wampanoags, and more exactly for the good of the new community that came into existence the second those two peoples met. What’s more patriotic than that?

As will be the case for all of this week’s focal figures, there’s plenty more, and more complexity and even tragedy, in Squanto’s story and what it symbolizes than I can get into here. The arc of the 17th century in Massachusetts was not, after all, toward justice. Yet if I have one overarching argument here, it’s the same one that’s at the heart of my fourth book: we can’t seek our ideal America, nor our ideal Americans, by eliding the darkest histories; instead we have to look to precisely those histories and find the genuine and impressive patriots who lived and engaged with and responded to them. Tisquantum’s a great place to start.

Next patriot tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Any nominations?

4/17 Memory Day nominees: Two American mythmakers, Alexander Cartwright (one of a few possible fathers of baseball, but certainly a pioneer of that defining American sport in any case) and Thornton Wilder (for his beautiful and bittersweet Our Town, his biting The Skin of Our Teeth, and much else besides).

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 16, 2012: The Hard Way

[In honor of Patriot’s Day—a holiday up here in New England, at least—here’s a slightly revised repeat of my post from last year on patriotism.]

I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about this moment before, but it bears repeating for two reasons I’ll elucidate below: one of my favorite literary exchanges of all time, and the one with which I begin the Introduction to my in-progress fourth book, occurs in the opening chapter of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (1996; the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series). Seven year-old Brandon “Bran” Stark is riding home with his father and brothers from his first experience witnessing one of his father’s most difficult duties as a lord, the execution of a criminal; his father insists that if he is to sentence men to die, he should be the one to execute them, and likewise insists that his sons learn of and witness this once they are old enough. Two of Bran’s brothers have been debating whether the man died bravely or as a coward, and when Bran asks his father which was true, his father turns the question around to him. “Can a man be brave when he is afraid?” Bran asks. “That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father replies.
On the surface the line might seem obvious, an appeal to some of our very trite narratives about courage in the face of danger and the like. But to my mind the moment, like all of Martin’s amazingly dense and complex series, works instead to undermine our easy narratives and force us to confront more difficult and genuine truths. That is, I believe we tend to define bravery, courage, heroism as the absence of fear, as those individuals who in the face of danger do not feel the same limiting emotions that others do and so can rise to the occasion more fully. But Martin’s truth is quite the opposite—that bravery is instead something that is found through and then beyond fear, that it is only by admitting the darker and more potentially limiting realities that we can then strive for the brightest and most ideal possibilities. I find that insight so potent not only because of its potential to revise oversimplifying narratives and force us to confront a complex duality instead, but also because it posits a version of heroism that any individual can achieve—if everyone feels fear in the face of danger, then everyone has the potential to be brave as well.

HBO recently premiered the second season of their award-winning series A Game of Thrones; the first season covered all of that first book of Martin’s, the second has moved on to book two, and so on for subsequent seasons. I haven’t watched any of it yet, although I’m sure I will at some point, and I hear very good things. But if that’s one reason why I’m thinking about this exchange again today, the other is the Massachusetts-specific holiday that has me at home with the boys: Patriot’s Day. As with our narratives of courage and heroism, I believe that far too many of our ideals of patriotism focus on what I would call the easy kind: the patriotism that salutes a flag, that sings an anthem, that pledges allegiance, that says things like “God bless America” and “greatest country in the world” by rote. Whatever the communal value of such patriotism, it asks virtually nothing of individuals, and does even less to push a nation to be the best version of itself (if anything, it argues that the nation is already that best version). So in parallel to Martin’s line, I would argue for the harder and more genuine kind of patriotism, the kind that faces the darkest realities and strives for the brightest hope through that recognition, the kind that, when asked “Can an American be a patriot if he/she is critical of his/her country?,” replies, “That is the only time an American can be a patriot.”
Happy Patriot’s Day! More tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think?
4/16 Memory Day nominee: Wilbur Wright, who with his brother Orville achieved one of the most significant breakthroughs in the histories of American and world technology, invention, and culture, and did it with style.