There is a universal idea, based perhaps on its hegemonic status, that the United States of America is the greatest country on Earth.
While that may be something often parroted by nostalgic American grandparents on the political right, there’s a level of truth to it. It’s not hard to fall into the line of thinking that the United States has changed. Because it has, and it hasn’t.
Many values of this nation have remained static in practice, especially looking closely at the events of this past week.
The Indigenous Peoples March was held on January 18, and a video has since circulated around the internet of a group of MAGA-clad boys mocking a Native American elder. Though the facts of the incident have evolved to show a much more nuanced chain of events, the truth may be held in perspective rather than actual fact.
It seems as though the events were instigated by a group who call themselves Hebrew Israelites, who were harassing both the members of the Indigenous Peoples March and the group of high school boys who were attending The March for Life.
The Native American Elder, Nathan Phillips, seen in the viral video beating his drum, sought to defuse the tensions between the two groups, and bring his song to the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before being blocked by Nick Sandmann, the young man standing eye-to-eye with Phillips in the video.
To be entirely unequivocal, no side in this event is without reproach. The rhetoric of the Hebrew Israelites is morally reprehensible and unworthy of being repeated, and the students seemed to fail to recognize the cultural significance of Phillips’ actions.
However, despite the cultural and political tensions that drove this story, no one was physically hurt.
As terrible as it may be to admit, this is nothing new in the United States. The systemic elimination and seizure of Native lands over the course of two centuries in the name of westernization was genocide — plain and simple.
Today, native lands have been reduced to 326 small reservations from the open ranges and natural land prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Something that has gotten even less attention in the media is the controversy involving offensive remarks made by announcers and fans at a Philadelphia Wings lacrosse game on Jan.12.
The Native American players were verbally berated with remarks about scalping. It’s a shame that the uninformed and antagonistic nature between cultural groups has not changed in what purports to be the “greatest country on Earth.”
Moreover, the game of lacrosse was created by Native Americans, and to disrespect the history full of strife that led to this modern era is especially egregious.
So yes, America has changed — but the fundamental problems underlying this nation have remained the same. The “us against you” mentality cultivated in the United States appeals to the worst instincts of many people. It was this same mentality that allowed such unity when the media and defense contractors beat the proverbial drum for endless wars.
It boils down to the fundamental difference that exists in the United States, but is seldom discussed. The differences between people, whether they be cultural, racial or otherwise are superseded by one thing — power.
The status quo is a wonderful thing if you are wealthy or powerful. Change can shake the hypothetical rafters of the establishment, which is why powerful interests seeks to curtail change before it happens.
The MAGA boys disrespecting the Native elders are presumably angry about a changing America or at the prospect of losing their power as a historically dominant group, but I am wary to philosophize about the psychology of “punching-down.”
As a general rule, it’s good to think twice if ever you find yourself blaming a less fortunate or disenfranchised group for your own malaise.
Yes, America has changed, and it will continue to change, but if one thing is for certain, we have a long way to go before we live up to the mantle of being the “greatest country on Earth.”