“America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil. Before the settlers, before the Indians… the evil was there… waiting.” – William S. Burroughs
Not to mince words with Old Bull Lee – a fool’s errand for a smart man, just plain suicide for a hack like me – but the other Immortal Bard only saw the pre 9/11 America, the one that still had idealism, even its seamier side, before the cynicism had set in permanently. I know he saw the big picture, and knew evil for what it is, but I think even he underestimated the scope of how much of it had already come to pass. The land that America was BUILT on was old and dirty and evil – endless fertilized fields waiting for new life to nurture, and indeed waiting patiently – but the actual United States of America is very much a young COUNTRY, and we certainly have made evil’s wait worth the trouble. We are a mere puppy to countries like Italy, Iraq, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia… Hell, all of them are thousands of years old. AMERICA IS ONLY 238 YEARS OLD, and yet we are arrogantly calling ourselves the world’s leader, and telling these ancient societies how it’s done. We are a puppy in the big scheme of things. A puppy with sharp teeth, but a puppy nonetheless.
And we act like a puppy, glad to be part of everything, running around pissing where we shouldn’t, pulling on pant legs wherever we think we can get away with it, barking at everyone we don’t like and getting into fights with other dogs regardless of age, some of which we’ve won, most of which we haven’t. We act like a rogue, orphaned puppy without guidance from older dogs because, face it, we ran away from home because we thought we knew better, and have turned down most help and guidance when it was offered, choosing instead to bark and show our teeth or laugh it off.
My point being that maybe we should learn something from our older neighbors, respect the advice they have to give us, learn from their mistakes. Everything that is dragging the U.S. down right now has happened elsewhere; history is full of examples. Because we helped to win WWII (though you would think we did it singlehandedly), we are convinced that we are invincible, that America is “exceptional,” and so now we proceed to boldly go where other countries have gone before, had less than perfect results, would never go to again and have warned us not to.
Usually you hear the term “American Exceptionalism” thrown around by Right Wing talk show hosts, as it’s an easy way to stir up the base in righteous anger against common imagined enemies and common sense in general. There was a time when the term had merit and a measure of pride attached, but now Frank Luntz may as well have coined the term (actually Alexis De Tocqueville did) and it’s joined “boots on the ground,” “Gitmo,” “robust,” and “Benghazi” as favorite buzzwords of the Right.
What’s really exceptional about America is how low we rank in things that count, like health care, education, taking care of our poor and our seniors, and of each other in general. We have become exceptionally selfish, closed minded, and gullible, no argument from me on that. And willfully ignorant: a lot of our elected officials regularly talk out of their asses, make up facts, and boldly lie, knowing full well that their target base is either dumb enough to buy it, just plain doesn’t understand it, or is greedy enough to want a piece of it.
I think if you look at the world situation today, we all agree that America’s stature on the world stage has been diminished in the past two decades. We are seen as weak, not the world leader we once were. And a lot of it can be blamed on whichever President is in power, but for once, I’m not going to argue either side of that. And I’m not going to go after either side of Congress either, although the fact that neither side could accomplish anything of real substance in over a decade certainly doesn’t make us look strong or even competent to other societies in the world that used to see us as a role model.
Nope. They see America as a once-cool, friendly puppy who has grown into an arrogant, conceited teenager who is overly impressed with itself and a bit of a bully. Owned and fed by corporations, but thinking we are free because they haven’t built a fence to keep us in yet. And they compare it to other puppy nations they’ve known over the millennia, most of whom got taught hard lessons by older puppies, or just aren’t around anymore.
If we want to start being that “Exceptional” America, to actually earn the bragging rights to it, then we need to take off our blinders, walk to the nearest mirror, look ourselves straight in the eyes and admit to ourselves that we are to blame, and we need to face it and change it, and be exceptional. All of us.
Cheetah Chrome is a founding member of Rocket From The Tombs, The Dead Boys, and The Batusis (with Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls), and an acclaimed author. He has lived in Nashville for the past 15 years. He is the Creative Director/A&R Director at Plowboy Records.
Cheetah Chrome Upcoming Shows:
Thursday, October 16th at Three Links in Dallas, TX
Show: 9PM // Tix: $10 adv. // $12 day of show
with The American Fuse
Friday, October 17th at Fitzgerald’s in Houston, TX
Show: 9PM // Tix: $10 adv. // $12 day of show
with The Drunks, The Guillotines, Born Liars
Saturday, October 18th at The Lost Well in Austin, TX
Doors: 8PM // Tix: $10
American Icon presents: Cheetah Chrome with The Drunks, Flash Boys, and more
plus vendors like American Icon Vintage – Realtro- Morning After Vintage – Creature Girls
Sunday, October 19th at Hi-Tones in San Antonio, TX
Show: 9PM // Tix: $3
with Sons of Hercules, Flash Boys, more TBA