When John Edwards was running for President, he was wont to discuss his idea of two Americas*, which boiled down to the eternal dichotomy of the haves and the have-nots. While Rob’s family was in town, we decided that there are indeed two American nations, but these are not divided exactly along class lines or even political affiliation (although the preferences of each group are clear). Instead, we have:
Those who solve problems using reason vs. the primitive reactionaries.
Evolutionary Darwinists vs. social Darwinists.
The intellectually curious vs. the willfully ignorant.
Free thinkers who encourage spirited debate vs. followers who prefer fascist compliance or dogmatic submission.
Those who use their power for the common good vs. those who use their power to help only themselves.
Those who live and let live vs. those who impose their own choices on others.
In other words, we have:
America vs. Murrica.
Like Israel and Palestine, America and Murrica are different spirits inhabiting the same land. (Americans are aware, of course, that the land once belonged to others; Murricans are prone to defending their small patches of terrain with vast arsenals, and worse luck if the injuns want it back.) Unlike in the Middle East, there is no acceptable way to divide the two into distinct entities. Cities, neighborhoods, and even families would be rather roughly hewn.
There used to be no easy way to distinguish between Americans and Murricans at a glance, but the Murricans have decided that they would rather not be mistaken for freedom-loving, kind-hearted, or remotely civilized individuals and have taken steps to ensure this cannot possibly happen. Thus, on our drive from Baltimore to Manhattan on Sunday night, Rob, Barb, Rindy, Goblin, and I witnessed a shocking array of vindictive bumper stickers and confederate flags and were nearly forced off the road by a Humvee whose driver (by virtue of his own inflated sense of importance or the immense size of his vehicle) felt entitled to bypass a miles of slow traffic on the shoulder. Had we turned on the radio, we would have heard station after station of bellicose white male millionaires bleating about their eternal persecution and strategizing ways of converting every last creature on earth into slaves of their lusty but chaste Murrican hungers.
And indeed, these are never sated.
Americans, I think, are basically decent, and although we don’t always get everything right, there’s no denying that we mean well. Because we are the fruit of social evolution and revolution, we often feel invincible. But this is merely an illusion, because no matter what progress we make, the Murricans-our abominable alter egos-are always there, ready to drag us back into the primordial muck.
* This is not the obvious reference to the continents of North and South America; he was referring to the United States of America alone. It is, however, difficult to pluralize “United States” unless one resorts to “United Stateses.”