How do you keep loving America when it seems to be doing everything in its power to be unlovable? The Statesider’s Pam Mandel finds herself thinking back on Palestinian dessert in the middle of Nevada, cowboy poets, a really big rock with a really problematic backstory, and why America is worth loving even when it hurts.
Some years back I went to Mount Rushmore. You know what I loved about it? Everyone was there. Big South Indian families spilling out of minivans. Black Americans, often wearing some kind of indication they’d served in the military. Amateur historians talking too loudly about the Crazy Horse monument down the road. Road-tripping Germans who just wanted to get a look at this thing. People like me, squinting in the bright summer light at the weirdness of those four huge heads blasted out of the side of a mountain.
Mount Rushmore was a terrible idea, a desecration of stolen Native American land. Yet what a thing it is to stand there among the visitors who are curious enough to drive out to the middle of South Dakota. How conflicting it is to be an American, to love so many aspects of our country while watching us eviscerate from our national character the very things that make us, well, great.
Last week’s Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights had all of us … I struggle to find the words and that’s rare for me. We were not surprised, no one who’s been paying attention should be surprised. I think my dominant emotion was anger. This ruling was followed by another ruling with equally foundation-shaking implications, the ruling on school prayer. This was more surprising to me than the abortion ruling, though again, no one who’s been paying attention thinks that this is about anything more than elevating Christianity, a thing that was never at risk. All this in the wake of another devastating school shooting, and yet another Supreme Court ruling limiting the ability of states to regulate firearms. Now, my dominant emotion is fear. I am afraid for our future.
When I am feeling particularly despairing about America, I go back in my mind to Elko, Nevada, where we came up with the idea for The Statesider. In Elko, we had an excellent Palestinian dessert and heard stories from Brooklyn Jews turned cowboys. Miss Elko, an immigrant from Sierra Leone — she worked as a mining engineer — read a Maya Angelou poem off her phone at the high school poetry slam. We learned about Basque farmers and had coffee with Becky and David from Wyoming. I bought a pearl snap cowboy shirt in a store that had been in business for more than 100 years. How surprising to find the best things of America represented in this place that feels, at first, like a freeway bypass with casinos and midrange hotels.
I don’t have any brilliant calls to action right now. Give money to places that support abortion rights, religious freedom (and freedom from religion), gun control; that’s the best I can offer today. I wish we could all meet in Elko, 2019. That we could take a minute to look at America, to remember what we love about it. I fear we will forget, and if we do not look back now, we will not come this way again.