The Myth of American Patriotism

Greetings from Canada, where they’re wondering what all the eagles are about

Dearest Pancake Brains,

I’m writing to you from Canada, where I did a Q&A on “How to Start a Revolution” at HotDocs Cinema yesterday evening. While “How to Start a Revolution” focuses on dismantling youth alienation as imposed by the U.S. government system, the fundamental message of the book is that any person who aspires to freedom must continuously insist on a right and duty to the political conversation. (That’s what true democracy would look like. It does not currently exist anywhere in the world.)

Last night, the moderator of the event asked me to discuss a section from “How to Start a Revolution” titled “The Myth of American Patriotism.” She did this while inquiring about our national fetishization of bald eagles for the benefit of a Toronto audience. It’s interesting to reflect on the aesthetics of American pride from this vantage point.

Where Canadians are globally regarded as being very nice and enjoying hockey, Americans are known for our exceptionalism. We wave the star-spangled banner and insist on our enduring superiority complex. Through some jingoistic potpourri of cultural messaging and a deteriorating education system, we’re indoctrinated into the idea that we ought to be aggressively proud of our liberty, and yet the majority of Americans fail to participate in the responsibilities that would grant us our supposed rights. Truly, the idea that the United States is a free country is one of the greatest scams in human history.

To be clear, this is not an issue of laziness. A big piece of “How to Start a Revolution” unpacks the difference between apathy and alienation. This is a critical distinction, especially when it comes to youth demographics. Young people are aggressively dismissed from the political conversation, and then scapegoated for not showing up. This only compounds the impact of a system that is designed to diminish our collective public voice. Moneyed interests, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and a geographical-biased electoral system are among the factors that make it so individual Americans are — as a study from Princeton and Northwestern put it — ”statistically non-significant” in shaping policy outcomes.

Think about it: Far too many of our representatives operate as if they don’t even have to consider public input. It’s infuriating to think about this through the lens of impeachment proceedings, where we see Republican lawmakers openly operating out of allegiance to their party. These people work for us, and they ought to be accountable to the full range of their constituents. Anything else is baldly anti-democratic.

Instead, the majority of people don’t participate, and so our elected officials don’t feel any need to cater to our interests. This is further infuriating when you consider the well-hidden fact that the lack of public participation is largely the fault of our elected officials. One of the most critical factors in our ongoing democratic crisis is that our representatives do not feel as if they need to be held accountable to the will of the people because the collective is not adequately enforcing public opinion. But it is the responsibility of our representatives to equip people to insist on their right and duty to the political conversation, and they aren’t even pretending to try.

Here’s a specific example: We recently had an election in New York, where I live. In addition to voting for public advocate and other down-ballot elections, there were 19 proposals spread across five ballot questions. Are you bored yet? I was in the voting booth, squinting at about 2000 words of size-seven font, and wondering how the hell the average person was supposed to get it up enough for democracy to parse through the nuanced issues at stake. What would it look like if New York elected officials actually wanted the majority of people to meaningfully participate in these decisions?

For one thing, there would probably be ads all over the goddamn subway. If they were specifically hoping to get young people involved, you’d see the aesthetics of Instagram all over the place. There’d be a bold sans-serif font announcing the date of the election, and maybe a link to a website, where local influencers unpacked each of the five ballot proposals, breaking down the full scope of what was at stake. (Why is it that the marketing genius used to sell us everything from the “Transformers” franchise to fried chicken sandwiches is nowhere to be seen in the average political campaign?)

I’m just riffing on the possibilities here, but the point is that voter outreach is conspicuously missing from American politics. Here we see the reciprocal loop of disengagement: The gatekeepers of the U.S. government system make no serious effort to bring us into the conversation, and then they chastise us for not showing up. What is lost in the conversation about low turnout is the abdication of responsibility by our elected officials. Our representatives ought to work to expand the political conversation to include the full range of their constituents. Or, anyway, that’s what they would do, if they gave a shit about the people they represent.

I can only imagine how Canadians think of the dumpster fire raging beneath the border. It’s totally absurd that the majority of Americans aren’t even voting while we have cookouts every year on the Fourth of July, and literally set off fireworks about how fucking free we are. It is further exhausting to reflect on the oppressive oligarchic system that denies us from having anything even remotely resembling government by and for the people. Except, that daunting reality is precisely the reason that we must build individual impact into the collective power required to shift the current hierarchy. “How to Start a Revolution” documents and seeks to sustain the youth-led movement toward this transformation. The years I spent researching and reporting this book allowed me to clearly see the sickness of the system, and yet it also left me with an undeniable sense of optimism in regard to what is possible. I plan to keep doing my part to fight for the equitable public power that we all deserve. I hope you will join me.

With earnest irreverence,
Lauren

p.s. If you’ve read “How to Start a Revolution” and would like to conspire on ways to empower as many young people as possible to invest in the political process, please shoot me an email (lauren.duca@gmail.com). I’m interested in doing Q&As, podcasts, talks, and panels. Let’s do this.

Sent from a Tim Hortons