It pains me to write these words, but silence is even less an option. I am ashamed to be American.
Today I should be writing a piece for Travel Medford about my experience in Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. But here I am, sitting at my desk, and I can’t do it. Too much else needs to be said. My shame is too great.
I spend my life traveling the world, meeting people from everywhere. When asked where I am from, I find myself feebly looking at my feet. “California,” I mumble. “I didn’t vote for him.” This caveat must always be added because right now, to be American is to be anti-immigrant, anti-people of color, anti-environment, and anti-sensible rhetoric. The backwards ideas and hate that spew forth from our leaders represent us in the poorest light. I am ashamed to be American.
I am ashamed. I am ashamed that I have friends and family who are not, who find ways to justify what is happening, who are part of the problem. To so many people, humanity is a distant relic, the American dream relegated to the dusty shelves in the back of libraries full of knowledge nobody has the insight to glean. So many of my countrymen care only for themselves. I am ashamed that I cannot change their minds or their hearts.
I am ashamed. I am ashamed that so many of my fellow travel writers go on as if nothing is different, as if the only thing that matters is the number of clicks they get today. If we who have a platform fail to use it in the protection of human dignity, we have no right to that platform. But I seem to stand nearly alone, and I am ashamed.
I am ashamed. I am ashamed that I have had to tell people of color, friends I have made all over the world, not to visit the country I once loved for fear of what might happen to them. I cannot trust my fellow Americans with their lives or their spirits. To warn people against seeing the place I have always called home is a terrible thing, but it is a responsibility I bear. I am ashamed.
There was once a time I felt only pride at being American. We acted with civility; we tried to do the right thing. We failed at times, and called ourselves to account. We acknowledged our past mistakes, and attempted not to repeat them. We valued kindness, morality, and goodness. We encouraged the pursuit of knowledge in our efforts to better the world of which we were a part. Those days, it seems, are over.
Today we sew hatred. We allow fear to rule our actions, and run circles to justify racism, sexism, and angry vitriol of all kinds. We view knowledge and truth as “alternative facts” or “fake news,” and keep our eyes blissfully closed to the harm we are causing. America is not the result of Donald Trump. Donald Trump is the result of America.
I am ashamed to be American. This was once the greatest nation in the history of the world. That is true no longer. History will look back on us, on all of us, as a blight unless we make a conscious effort to change. We must speak up about our shame, about our anger at what we have become. We must remind those around us that today is not business as usual; today is a war for the survival of our souls. Today I am ashamed, but if we – the good people of what was once a good country – come together, tomorrow I might again be proud.