I Want To Teach My Children To Love America, But Not This America

by Annie Reneau
Jordan Parks Photography / Getty Images

I love my country. I love the beauty of its diverse landscapes as well as its diverse people. I love the ideals of a representative government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I love the well-planned balance of powers within our government, and the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution.

I have mixed feelings about my country’s founding, of course, as anyone with a conscience would. I appreciate the fortitude and courage of our forefathers while also condemning their colonialism. I admire the founding fathers’ political innovation while also abhorring their white supremacy. As Daveed Diggs said about reconciling his role as Thomas Jefferson—drafter of the Declaration of Independence and slave owner/rapist—in Hamilton: “He can have written this incredible document with things that we all believe in. And he sucks! Those are both true.”

America is a reflection of the best and worst human tendencies. It isn’t perfect and never has been. But it tries, and that’s what makes it the country I know and love.

The America I know and love welcomes the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

The America I know and love is made up of immigrants and descendants of immigrants looking for a better life and figuring out how to forge a new path.

The America I know and love strives to live up to its written ideals of “liberty and justice for all” and “out of many, one.”

The America I know and love takes two steps forward for every step it takes back.

The America I know and love isn’t perfect, but it is trying. That’s what I’ve always believed, and that’s what I’ve tried to teach my children.

But something has changed. The ground has shifted beneath our feet. I see the foundation and structure of our system being tested like never before. I see “liberty and justice for all” being systematically eroded for people who’ve spent the majority of their lives within our borders by a man who couldn’t pass a citizenship test if his life depended on it. I hear Americans in minority and marginalized groups telling us a hundred different ways that they aren’t—and truly never have been—able to enjoy our guarantee of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And I hear that obvious observation ridiculed and dismissed by the people with the power to change it.

I see white supremacists emboldened, and greed and inequality fueled. I see leaders hellbent on moving backwards, hearkening back to some elusive era when America was “great” without ever specifying when that was. I see people who seem to care more about their tax cut than about healthcare being cut for millions. I see an administration who alienates our allies and seeks to isolate us from a cooperative global community. I see partisan politics tearing apart our institutions and dismantling our humanity.

There have always been selfish people, of course. And clearly there has always been bigotry, prejudice, racism, and sexism in our ranks. I just don’t recall during my lifetime ever questioning if the America I know and love would survive. I don’t remember ever feeling humiliated by my nationality like I do now.

How am I supposed to instill in my kids a healthy respect for the Presidency when it is currently defined by unbridled nationalism, unqualified appointments, and undignified buffoonery? How am I to teach my kids to be thankful and proud to be Americans when everything my country stands for appears to be unraveling before our eyes?

The U.S. was founded on the idea that there is a better way to govern a people. Our founding documents were purposefully left open-ended because the founders knew that they didn’t fully know what they were doing. The beauty of America is that within a structure that protects us from tyrannical rule, we have the freedom and flexibility to progress and to make necessary changes to how we do things. It appeared to be a foolproof system. But I’m not so sure about that anymore.

I am tired of feeling like I’ve lost the America I know and love. I’m tired of telling my children that this isn’t the way it should be. I want my kids to know and love the America I’ve known and loved. I want my country back.