The American Myth of Goodness

3 min readOct 11, 2023

The following essay was written during the Trump presidency. These are the lessons I learned, and I think it’s important not to forget …

Barack Obama was the master of stirring rhetoric evoking our nation’s imperfect past rooted in a perfect ideal. Everything was always framed in a way to excuse our flaws as hiccups on the path toward “a more perfect union,” answerable to “the better angels of our nature.” Genocide against First Americans? Hundreds of years of chattel slavery? Jim Crow, Red Scare, the Iraq War … all anomalies. After all, here in America our founding gods, er, fathers, believed that all people (at the time they just referred to them as “men”) were created equal. We are the shining beacon of light on the hill, blah, blah, blah.

So inspirational a speaker was Barack Obama that for brief moments, I could subdue my cognitive dissonance while listening to him describe the Greatest Country on Earth. Yes! OK, we may have invaded more countries than all nations in the history of the world combined, and yes, our CIA may have engaged in terrorist behavior back in the 20th century, and yes, we may be the only country ever to have dropped atomic bombs on people, but at our core we are good. Thank you and God Bless the United States of America.

But now, it’s not so easy to be willfully ignorant. Now, we wear our cruelty on our sleeve. Now, let’s face it, we have chosen an asshole as our leader. A bully who doesn’t even employ the face-saving rhetoric of the past. We have to face facts:

  1. We’re no better or worse than any other country, we’re just richer and more powerful, so we get away with more.
  2. We have never, ever, in all of our history as a self-glorifying bastion of democracy, had a truly democratic system of government. The checks and balances that matter in this country are not those between the three branches of government, they are the ones put in place to check the power of the population. They are the electoral college and all of the historic and present-day laws designed to disenfranchise people of color, women and poor people. What used to be enshrined in laws explicitly disallowing people from various groups to participate in democracy have morphed into clever schemes of gerrymandering, voter ID laws, purging voter rolls, anything the small oligarchy in…