You know, I realized once again, after my recent visit to Cincinnati, that nobody loves you like family. But the reverse is also true: Except for psychotics and romantic exes, nobody is as tough on you as family.
Well, in a national sense, America is my extended family and all of you who share this ground, at this time, are my distant relatives, like it or not.
A friend who has followed what I often laughingly call my writing career asked me a slightly pointed question the other day that started me thinking. Her question was, "Why have you, the most apolitical person I've ever known, become such a Bush basher?"
I immediately - just like with family - got defensive.
"I'm not a Bush basher. I even voted for Old Man Bush the first time. And I have voted Republican in some local elections where I knew the Republican (always a moderate - let's be honest) was better than the Democratic opposition. Hell, I've even voted for a Socialist or two over the years if they weren't too programmatic and doctrinaire."
The truth is Bush Jr., Cheney and Rummy and the rest of the boys have made me political for the first time since 1972, when I worked for George McGovern (I also worked for Bobby Kennedy until the life bled out of him in Los Angeles in 1968).
Whether they really meant it or not, both Bobby and George said they wanted America to be all-inclusive, and to me that is the unfulfilled national dream most worth working for. The crooks running the country now, swathed in the flag and the war they started, after dodging service in their own generation's war, are bad for America.
Since Bush Jr. assumed command, this lifelong, big-talking failure and his corrupt corporate cronies have started a preemptive war against a sovereign (however dictatorial) nation that was not involved in 9/11.
We, the people who proclaim our love of freedom everywhere, picked a place on the map and unleashed our pent-up aggressions for no real, discernible reason other than we were angry after 9/11. Under this gang - and that's what they are - we, the people who fought the Russians because they tortured innocent folks, now torture people until they say they are guilty. We kill some of them in secret prisons, and we export people to be tortured elsewhere.
We reserve the right to invade another country again if the President feels they need an ass-whipping, and we reserve the right to torture folks we deem terrorists, with or without proof.
We are talking about the country once known everywhere but in its black ghettos for pursuing freedom (and we've worked on fixing that problem since LBJ, successful or not).
We were, to paraphrase poor old deluded Ronnie Reagan, the shining city on the hill. We are now, in the eyes of many Second and Third World peoples, Russia.
If we can't trade with you, we'll threaten you, boycott you and eventually bomb the hell out of you. And if you are in any way connected to one of our enemies, you are subject to lockup, no trial, and torture.
This is a shameful period for America and will be seen as such in the history books 100 years from now as (I hope) an exception - or maybe as the day America started down the bleak, bloody road to out-and-out fascism.
Everyone deserves a fair trial in America. Or at least as fair as money can buy.
No one, not even an admitted terrorist, but especially not someone just suspected of terrorism, should face the prospect of torture in some secret prison where the light of day never shines. It is a political opinion to oppose abortion or support it.
It is arguably a political opinion - I believe it is religious bigotry, but hey - to oppose gay marriage. But to torture the possibly innocent, to arrest and hold for years without trying these same folks, is a crime against the world. And we Americans are citizens of the world, due to our country's power and prominence, whether we like it or not.
In 1942, we sent some Japanese off to camps. We stole their property while they were gone. But we didn't send them to secret places, and if we tortured anybody we didn't brag about it in the world forum. And although we were fighting the Germans, too, we didn't put German-Americans in camps. The 9/11 hijackers were primarily Saudi Arabians trained in Afghanistan. That's why the world stood silent, even our alleged enemies, when we invaded Afghanistan, where we are still mired in a war the Russians failed to win two generations earlier.
People outside of the Middle East started getting vehement when we openly admitted torturing Arab people.
We now arrest these same people and never try them for a crime. We bomb whatever country we think we can get away with bombing.
And if someone objects, the Hitlerian cry begins: Traitors, threats to national security, communists, America-Haters.
I love America and wish to see it be its best, just like family. I supported, in print, the invasion of Afghanistan, and when drafted for Vietnam, I didn't say (as Cheney did) I had other priorities. The invasion of Iraq was a murky, lie-filled diversion that has become a sandy quagmire. Saddam was a bad man, but so are the presidents of many African countries we still pour aid into.
We didn't invade Nigeria. We didn't even invade Rwanda when it was run by butchers. We didn't invade Uganda when Idi Amin was eating - literally - his citizens.
We didn't even think about invading South Africa before Nelson Mandela. Who did more harm to human rights on a global scale, the Boers or Saddam?
And we didn't invade Saudi Arabia even though that's where the most virulent anti-American talk, and terrorists, still come from. America is like that brother of yours who always had a temper but was almost always a fair fighter, until he started drinking. Then he picked on little guys in a bar. He flirted with and even touched other men's dates. He sometimes punched you. In other words, he became a problem that was your problem because he was your brother.
If you and I are Americans, we have to defend America whenever She is right. But we also have to speak up when our country is wrong.
If you do not decry terrorism and you do not oppose the colonial wars we start, not finish, you are not a patriot.
You may not yet be a fascist, but you are not a good and true American.
There aren't enough ribbons in the world to convince me that preemptive strikes and secret prisons where torture is a daily event are as American as apple pie. We have become that angry, drunken brother in the bar. A bully. A problem.
We should be ashamed, all of us who don't speak out against this perversion of what this great country is supposed to stand for. There used to be a saying back when I was a kid, flaunted by the ancestors of the current criminals running the country: America, love it or leave it. I thought then, and I know now, that the correct version of that sentiment is: America, love it always and change it when it is wrong.
I'm proud to be an American, but I am not proud of today's America. We need to once again become the country we keep saying we still are.
Have a thought or two to share with Dennis? Write him at the address below or via firstname.lastname@example.org.