It’s America Day. My US-based company gave me the paid day off. Bruce Springsteen blaring from my tape deck before heading to a BBQ with my friends. Felix is basking in the God’s sunshine pouring through my kitchen window. After the gym, Ima watch ID4 and get teary eyed at the We Will Not Go Quietly into the Night speech.

I’m a goddamn meat-eating, personal responsibility preaching, crushing-Budweiser-on-hot-day American. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and making something of yourself. I’m an existentialist. And I subscribe to the radical freedom newsletter. 

There’s a lot to love about this place. We forget that sometimes.

But also.

“Born in the USA” is about a disillusioned Vietnam vet’s return to an unwelcoming America. The beef industry ravages the environment as one of the leading causes of climate change and criminally mistreats the animals I conveniently divorce from their face-having origins. Steak tastes better when it comes from blue styrofoam and not from a calf suckling at her mother’s teat. Felix is my neighbor’s cat. The sun is nice though. No notes. Independence Day is a power fantasy about how the US is the world’s savior. But time has shown Will Smith to bear little resemblance to the charming, brave, and noble hero he portrays. Budweiser is owned by a Belgium company called AB InBev. Jean Paul Sartre abandoned existentialism in favor of Marxist ideals.

There’s a lot to lament about this place. We forget that sometimes.

America is that boyfriend who eschewed authority, tread his own path, and smoked cigarettes in a leather jacket in 100° heat. And we’ve been together for a while and we’re a little tired of his shit. Instead of a rebel maverick, they seem like petulant children refusing to put their shoes on. America is the season 8 of Game of Thrones we deserved. We’re munching popcorn watching crumbling ideals give way to selfishness and tyranny. We landed on the moon, and we hosted the most recent presidential debate. Sit with both of those for a while. 

Our fierce insistence on independence propelled this country. It made us great. But “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” only takes you so far. At some point, we must relearn to collaborate. To grow. To realize there are systemic issues which plague our meritocracy fantasy. Yes, we worked hard. Yes, we never gave up. But we had the wind at our back and we refuse to acknowledge anything but our own sweat is responsible for our success. Faster alone, further together. America was built by the “I,” but will only survive as a “We.”  

To love anything is to be conflicted. Being a fan requires a lot of nuance. From Woody Allen to Anti-Flag, we must sit in the uncomfortable place of loving and respecting their work, and being ashamed and embarrassed by their behavior. Cancel culture will give way to uncomfortable love. The longer we live, the more ambiguity we must reckon with. We are always A-in-the-mode-of-not-quite-being-A. Our identity will always be unstable, in flux, and at issue.  

America is neither the greatest country on earth, nor are we heathen infidels. We made rock and roll, but we stole it from the blues. We built an empire of prosperity on the backs of slaves. Tonight I encourage you to celebrate this country. It’s ours and it’s special. It has a lot to love. But it’s certainly not perfect, and its greatness is up for debate. Before the fireworks tonight, before the America, Fuck Yeahs, before the hot dogs and sparklers, listen to the demo version of “Born in the USA.” 

It hits different.

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