When it comes to the concept of “America,” most people think of the “American” ideals set forth by the “founding fathers:” freedom, democracy, life, liberty, happiness, etc. However, the double standards of these men is shown in their writing in the constitution. They protected slavery, allowed only white, land owning men to vote, and did anything and everything to avoid the government seeing everyone as equal. Although some still hold false belief in these values, those of us mindful enough to observe all the evidence have a different opinion: “America” means hypocrisy. Aaron Sorkin demonstrates this in his television series “The Newsroom.” In one clip, a reporter is asked what makes America the greatest nation on earth. He replies that it isn’t, backed up with evidence in the form of a long list of how the US is behind other countries. He points out that the US significantly lacks in areas such as healthcare, education, and economy, and is only at the top of the list in prisons, the military, and religion. This shows how the US really doesn’t have the right to proclaim itself as the greatest or worse, meddle in foreign affairs. Unfortunately, it often does, claiming to bring its “freedom” and “democracy” to the world, often in the form of imperialism.
Ibram Kendi has found the root of this hypocrisy: denial. In his article “Denial is the Heartbeat of America,” Kendi writes that “Humans – like nations – are not going to perform radical surgery on cancers that they don’t think are part of them.” This explains why the US is so easily able to ignore its issues: it doesn’t believe they exist. This is what allows Americans to proclaim that they are part of the greatest nation on earth and to force their “freedom” on others, while that same “freedom“ is being torn apart from within by this cancer. Essentially, Kendi has the same opinion as Sorkin, able to see America’s flaws, but also able to improve his argument by explaining where they come from and why they can’t be fixed. Kendi’s overall view, expressed by his title, is that America means denying your issues in order to feel good about yourself in the short term.
However, this denial doesn’t do anything for the long term. The denial of America’s core issues leads to the issues explained by Sorkin, which are expressed in more depth by Langston Hughes in his poem “Let America be America Again.” In this poem, he explains the suffering that he and countless other Americans experience, writing that he is part of “the millions who have nothing for our pay” and are being taken advantage of by “those who live like leeches on the people’s lives” (Hughes). Despite the fact that this poem was written in 1935, this is still relevant today, and even worsening, as shown by Sorkin in “The Newsroom.” With this, he is explaining how the US is a nation full of people who are kept at the bottom of society by those that benefit from their suffering. This shows American hypocrisy because it clearly shows how those who proclaim there is freedom in this nation in fact oppress the freedom of others. When you step back, you can see that this is the same situation as in the very beginning, with the founding fathers, preaching American ideals while suppressing the freedom of others through slavery.
Presented with this, a saying comes to mind: Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. The denial that Kendi believes is “the heartbeat of America” has suppressed this dark history of our nation, leading us to repeat it, even if in a modernized form. The denial that is at the core of America has directly led to American hypocrisy, the dangerous force that allows the few who do have freedom to use it to suppress others.
However, Hughes finishes his poem with a hopeful message: that we can build America up to be a great nation, one with freedom and equality. He believes that with the people working together, “America will be!” (Hughes). This belief is the one that keeps this nation alive: the freedom that we believe we have lets us think we can stage a revolution and improve our situation.
However, this clearly is not the case. America’s situation is worsening, as shown by large amounts of gun violence, political extremism, immense costs of living, and many other things, some of which are mentioned in “The Newsroom.” Hughes’ opinion is clearly incorrect. The United States is doomed in a cycle of repeating history, denial, and hypocrisy. These forces have been in motion since the founding of this nation, and have gained enough momentum that there is no hope of stopping them. The only way to end this vicious cycle is to start again. The current nation must be burned down. Start with the flag, then with the government. When we start to rebuild, we just might find ourselves in a situation where, just maybe, everyone is equal.
Hughes, Langston. “Let America be America Again” from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. 1995. Harold Ober Associates, Inc. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147907/let-america-be-america-again
The Newsroom, “Why America Is NOT the Greatest Country in the World, Anymore.” YouTube, YouTube, 26 June 2012, https://youtu.be/VMqcLUqYqrs
Kendi, Ibram X. “Denial Is the Heartbeat of America.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 11 Jan. 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/01/denial-heartbeat-america/617631/.