This is a personal confession. It is not a political argument, and I do not want to be lectured by those who insist on telling me that I ought to have felt this way long ago. I really do not.
Let me say it as simply as I can. Today, I am ashamed to be an American. I have not before felt shame at being an American. I have felt anger at what the American government has done, outrage at what the American government has done. I have felt a sickening sadness at what happens every day in this country. I have felt all of those emotions, repeatedly, over the past six decades and more. But I have never before been ashamed to be an American. To feel this shame, manifestly, I must identify myself emotionally as an American, not as a citizen of the world who happens to reside in America. And I do so identify, for better or for worse.
I did not feel shame for America’s war crimes during the Viet Nam War. Instead, I opposed the war from the outset. It was a war ostensibly fought in my name, for I am an American citizen, but it was fought over my vocal opposition. I stood in front of the centennial gathering of the Bar Association of New York and declared that no young man had a moral obligation to obey a draft notice to fight in that war. I chaired a public meeting at Harvard University and condemned John Kennedy’s decision to invade Cuba. I marched to protest Jim Crow, I stood against the overthrow of Latin American governments. I did all these things, and yet I did not feel shame at being an American.
Some of you who read this blog perhaps did feel shame at being Americans long before I did. As I say, this is not a political argument, it is a personal confession.
Shame is an emotion, not a judgment. I think it has about it elements of the aesthetic and the psychodynamic, not the political and ideological. I find myself now feeling unclean for being an American. I feel that I owe my French friends a personal apology for being an American. They are very kind, of course, and do not reproach me. Instead, they commiserate, as though there had been a death in the family. But death is a natural part of the human condition. Perhaps God should feel ashamed for having invented death.
What will I do? Oh, you know. I will protest, I will march, I will write, I will vote. When this move is over and our finances have stabilized, I will go back to donating to the Jon Ossofs of the world. [I accidentally checked the wrong box when giving $25 to John Lewis a while back and now it seems I am donating every month, but John Lewis deserves my little gift. Consider it my Grushenka’s onion.]
What can be done to cleanse me of this shame? I honestly do not know, but I think impeachment would help.