A recurring theme throughout this electoral season has been the growing voice of “real Americans.” For some, the phrase “real American” conjures up Hulk Hogan’s entrance music.
I am a real American. Fight for the rights of every man. I am a real American. Fight for what’s right, fight for your life!
For others, it conjures up an image from Martin Scorsese’s now-classic but oft overlooked film from 2002, Gangs of New York. That film features a character called Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. By today’s standards, Bill is a racist, a xenophobe, a sexist and plethora of other words that we’ve created to otherize people who don’t fit the societal norms crafted by our cultural elites. But, in Bill’s time period, he’s a real American – “a native born rightwise in this great country.” He’s the protector of America against the defiling horde of immigrants.
Mark Wahlberg recently said that Hollywood – essentially the Coastal Liberal Elites centered in the DC-New York Megalopolis and California by implication – hasn’t lived amongst “Real Americans” and doesn’t understand their voice. This America doesn’t care about taking care of immigrants. This America doesn’t care about gender equality or LGBT rights. This America cares about putting food on their family’s table and just trying to survive. This America exists everywhere. It’s in New York, Chicago, Des Moines, Boulder, Tallahassee, and Tupelo. This America is the one we don’t talk about. This is the America that isn’t prosperous. This is the America to which Donald Trump refers when he says he wants to Make America Great Again. This is the America that felt heard.
So, who is a real American? Is it the prosperous urbanites? Is it the middle class engine that drives society? Is it flyover country? Is it the East Coast? Is it the West Coast? The answer is all of them. We’re all real Americans. Our country isn’t just one thing. We’re not simply a bunch of blue collar people scraping by. We’re the white collar executive. We’re the grocery store clerk getting ready to go to a second job. We’re the bus driver. We’re the local politician. We’re the police officer. We’re the criminal. We’re the Marine. We’re that annoying barista talking about how latte art is underappreciated. We’re the immigrant taking the citizenship test. We’re the White Supremacist. We’re the Black Lives Matter activist. America encompasses such a vast, rich, spectrum of people. To say that any one person is more American than another is wrong. There are bad people who are Americans – but they’re still Americans. As Barack Obama once said, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.”
We seem to have forgotten this in our political divisiveness. Liberals don’t agree with Conservative ideals, so Conservatives are somehow less American and vice versa. Although I personally do not endorse her or support her in any way, I feel compelled to quote Tomi Lahren. The other night, during her appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, she said that “true diversity is diversity of thought.” Jon Stewart, late of The Daily Show, said earlier this year that the only discrimination allowed to exist in this country is “the discrimination of those whom you don’t agree with.” In this country, despite our professed ideal of free speech and free thought, we have tried to force a hegemonic viewpoint on our citizenry. We have otherized and ostracized people whom we don’t agree with. In short, we don’t want to accept that people might just have a different opinion. I’m not simply talking about racists, sexists, or xenophobes – people with objectively disgusting opinions. I’m talking about the people who, maybe, just want to own a high capacity rifle. The person who doesn’t want to pay higher taxes to take care of people they’ll never meet. The person who wants to marijuana to be legal. The person who wants LGBT people to be equal. We pick out little issues and completely dismiss the rest of what a person has to say.
“You’re a Catholic? You must condone child abuse. You’re a terrible person.”
“You’re an Atheist? We can’t talk, I’ll go to hell because you’re a terrible person.”
“You’re a coal miner? Do you want to kill the environment? You’re a terrible person.”
Some people just are. Some people are trapped by circumstance. Some people do not have the luxury of caring about social issues. Some people do simply just want to work and provide for their family. A trans person isn’t trans because they woke up one day and decided to be the opposite sex – they’re trans because they’ve been forced to wake up everyday and present as something they know that they’re not. A coal miner isn’t a coal miner because he wants to kill the environment. He’s a coal miner because that’s all he knows.
We are all real Americans. We just need to learn a little empathy and fight for the rights of every person – even those we disagree with. At the end of the day, we’re all just space monkeys riding a rock through the universe. We’re all that we have.