Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Myth of America

Something that always surprises me (and which I have probably mentioned in the past) is the persistent affection for America among Indonesians. While I, reading the news everyday--of the violence, of the corruption, of the racism and the police shootings and the random school shootings and the Waffle House shootings; of government cuts to programs for the poor and to insurance for those in need and the passage of taxation laws that benefit only the very rich; of the shameful, slavish endorsement of the NRA, of the money spent to buy that endorsement; of the deterioration of government resulting in a childish circus of insults and accusations, the disappearance of truth and its replacement by 'alternate facts'--while I, I say, looking upon my country from afar, and yet so near in my heart, as the place of my birth and the home of my history, grow increasingly discouraged and disillusioned, the common Indonesian holds fast to his admiration for America. 

It is one thing to be an Australian, or Dutch, or English--but an American? That is something quite beyond the common. "An American!" they will say. America is a great country. America is a powerful country. America, I was told by a policeman, has the best army in the world. No one can beat America. America is music and cinema, glitz and glitter, the land of movie stars and pop legends. In America, everyone is free and more or less rich, relative to the Indonesian. America! Donald Trump! Barach Obama! When you go back to America, you take me, yes?"

Well, when you think about it, you realize that these folks are not exposed to the current story of America, for American news is simply not told here in any lengthy degree. We, as Americans, reading English ,easily slip into the notion that American news basically is the news--all the news. Take a look, however, at an Indonesian newspaper and you will find perhaps one article concerning some event in America.

What is it then that they know and admire about America?

What is active in the Indonesian imagination is the mythology--and it is the same mythology that is active in the imagination of every American--a mythology which leads, for the Indonesian, to visions of grandeur, the promised land, hope and destination; and for the American to the desert, east of Eden, exile in Babylon, wailing the gnashing of teeth. Even as the Indonesians admire us, we tear at one another, slaughter and hate and kill, run over people with cars and shoot children and spend hours anonymously hating on social media for we are driven to madness by the rape and death of our own unattainable mythology.

Dear Indonesians, the New Jerusalem has not descended on the far side or the world, though the darker angels of this century perhaps have. 

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