The Case for a Common American Mythos

There is a tendency these days to examine our national past through a far more critical lense than ever before. Old narratives surrounding our founding and our principles are dug up and dissected. Hypocrisies are exposed within these are exposed. Our history looks far less appealing when dragged out into the stark light of our modern values. In general, it is a healthy thing to look back and understand the mistakes of our past, but it is a difficult thing for many to face; that the foundation of their national identity may not be as clean cut and virtuous as they once believed. Many, understandably do not enjoy a key part of their cultural identity being marred in a negative light.

This close examination of our history dredges to the surface many skeletons which are worth examining and learning from. This is a helpful thing, and being honest about our mistakes and learning from them builds a stronger America. The problem lies in trying to uproot cultural traditions that may have associations with such mistakes of the past, especially when their contemporary celebration or usage do not directly promote these travesties. We are an increasingly divided and polarized nation, partly due to a diversification in the variety of entertainment and news sources we consume. We are increasingly lacking common cultural reference points. The advent of the internet targeted advertising, and streaming services has created a market of tailor-made content for everyone to enjoy.  The supply for content that reinforces our beliefs has met the demand, and it is formidable. Political discourse has fallen so low, not due to lack of common ground, but instead to lack of a common understanding of reality. Without this framework, any attempt any meaningful debate quickly collapses. There no longer is room for compromise when each side, left-and-right, has been trapped in a reality distortion field that drags them deep into a cycle of ideological self-affirmation.

This diversion of political perceptions of reality has left the nation crippled. We have a dysfunctional Congress that is beholden to an increasingly irrational electorate which seems incapable of escaping the echo chamber, a President who seems to be in many respects the result of said echo chamber. This great divergence on what American values are is untenable. A solution might be to open up and promote our national mythos. The nation is in need of a grand narrative of our shared history in a way that promotes inclusive values so that every citizen may feel a stakeholder. Indeed, to some, the idea of “painting over” the mistakes of our past will seem objectionable, but America already has a separate national mythos to some degree. Many Americans revere our founders to an almost demi-god like status for their role in the forging of our Union and for their contributions to our founding principles, but most have come to terms with the fact that on close examination there is much to find unsavory about much of the men who got the ball rolling on the great American experience. Others may view this proposal with skepticism from a more ethnocentric point of view, such as those who criticized the cast of Hamilton for being all individuals of color (as I mentioned in my prior comment on the blog, which led me to write this post). The fact of the matter is this: America has changed and is changing. We have become more diverse not just in racial/cultural demographics, but in the content we consume. This is a great thing, but it poses the risk of isolating ourselves from the ideas of others and hunkering down amongst only those who think like ourselves. To avoid losing track of who we are as a country, and giving everyone, regardless of their background a stake in our nation, we should promote a forward-looking American mythos that builds off of our best ideas to promote who we should be.

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