"But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it."
—Henry David Thoreau (Civil Disobedience)
In 2012 I burned my ballot on YouTube. Back then I wouldn't be caught dead giving implicit consent to the bread and circuses of American politics and American patriotism. I wouldn't take seriously anyone standing in front of an American flag.
Last week I voted for the first time since 2008. I voted for Bernie Sanders, and I was excited to do it. It's amazing how much one imperfect but faithful politician—doggedly determined to have real, practical dialogue about real issues—changed how I see politics and my own role in democracy.
There are reasons besides Bernie Sanders, of course. In my own story I've been engaged in a pendulum swing toward pragmatism, fueled mostly by disillusionment. In fact, the darkest moments of my life thus far have all been moments of disillusionment, when I realized many Good Things in my world had been faked.
As a child I lived in America: a just, generous land; a perfect union. Coming of age as a teenager and college student, when I felt overwhelmed by the falseness and selfish irresponsibility of humanity (as I often did, and still do), I'd hole up with The Andy Griffith Show or Leave it to Beaver and soak in their dreamworlds of black-and-white—okay, mostly white—like a warm bubble bath cooling much too fast. These days, though, TV Land doesn't do much for me.
"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
—Henry David Thoreau (Walden)
The thing is, despite his criticism of America and admiration for other first-world countries, Bernie never escaped to Canada or Scandinavia like so many threaten. He stuck around, here in his homeland, getting his hands dirty working to make things better. He believes that the flag, the American Dream, doesn't have to be a mask we wear to hide our collective shame or give false hope to the disenfranchised. By loving America—that is, by speaking the truth about our many flaws; by keeping faith with our real, inspiring, and inexhaustible potential to form a more perfect union; and by taking thoughtful, consistent care over several decades—Bernie addresses both my disillusioned pragmatism and my childlike idealism.
Anyway, here's Bernie on YouTube, standing in front of an American flag, pointing out our deep-rooted flaws and offering some practical steps we might take to move toward genuine growth and a genuine realization of that illusive and elusive ideal, the American Dream.
"Denounce the government and embracethe flag. Hope to live in that freerepublic for which it stands."
—Wendell Berry (Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front)