I just finished one of the most amazing trips of my life. I rode with my wife from our home state of Indiana all the way to the coast of California. When I say rode, I mean that we took my Harley-Davidson.
It was a truly eye-opening experience, almost religious in its context, and a trip I would suggest to anyone capable of taking a couple of weeks for himself. We were on a fairly rigid timeline for both the trip out and the return trip, which meant more than one day of riding for 10 hours. During our week-long trek out to California, we stopped at the Grand Canyon and then Monterey, California, to explore.
We decided we would take the southern route for the first leg of the journey. Once we hit California, my wife had to fly back for business, and I made the return trip by myself. This time I took Route 80, which carried me through the Sierra Nevada mountains and then into the great farmlands of our nation.
One of the most amazing things about riding a motorcycle across country is how much more you notice. In a car it is easy to get into a groove and simply let the scenery roll by you. You have your radio, your air conditioning, your drinks, etc. Heck, half of the drivers out there are watching their phones more than the road. On a motorcycle, you don’t have those distractions. You are exposed to the elements and therefore more responsive to the world around you. The sights, smells, sounds: It all leaves you with more of a feeling of connection than driving any car could.
As we rode, my wife made a very astute statement to me — twice, as I couldn’t hear her the first time she yelled it to me. She said that the amazing thing about the states we rode through was that it was in the heartlands that our country truly exists. It is in the central portion of our country where people still believe in helping each other. It is in those small communities, where neighbor knows neighbor, that we still create the American Dream. It is where you still have honest people trying to make an honest living. All of this is bound together with devotion to a higher power and a belief that good deeds will be rewarded .
As we stopped in those towns, you could feel the sense of community and identity. My wife was correct: This is where America resides. As we hit California, and then spent the next week in New York, the difference was palpable, especially in the cities. Whether at a restaurant or simply interacting with people on the street, there was no sense of community or culture. That was one of the things, in fact, that was most noticeable. As we explored the Bay area, it became very apparent there was no American culture in this environment. Everyone walked around with their own culture, separate and distinct from every other group. There were no hostilities from this separation, only a clear and distinct division.
This all made me think of the great American melting pot. It would appear that the cook is no longer in the kitchen. The whole ordeal explains, in my view, one of the greatest issues with our country. We no longer have a sense of Americanism. I do believe that this loss of identity will be one of our downfalls. In our nation, we no longer group ourselves by our citizenry, but instead by those things that divide us. In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt said:
In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American … There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag … We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language … and we have room for but one sole loyalty, and that is a loyalty to the American people.
One can look at the last election and see where the two belief systems diverge. Those states where there is a solid belief in the American way were red. Where the citizenry has turned away from our history they show blue.
I am not saying we should all be, look, or think the same. What I am saying, however, is that when one cannot even identify oneself first and foremost as an American, the only path is toward anarchy and chaos. (go to page 2 to continue reading)
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We used to believe that it was the responsibility of those who came to our country to fit in. It is only logical, after all. Clearly there was something about our country that drew these people to our shores. As it states on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door." But when they get here, there should be an expectation that they become Americans. Not German, Japanese, Russian, African, or Mexican hyphenated American — just American.
When did it become fashionable to declare your loyalties and devotion to a country you either left or have never seen?
Although my time in California reminded me why I left that state in the first place, the central portion of our nation restored at least some of my faith. We need to have an expectation that when people decide to immigrate to our country, they do so with the intent to become Americans — not just a citizen of our country, but a true American. An American who believes in our values and will support mom, freedom, and apple pie. No nation can exist without a culture to hold it together. There needs to be something that binds us and pushes us to excel together.
So what is the American culture? If I were to define it I would say we are a nation of people who believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish. We believe in hard work and honesty. We fight for liberty, for ourselves and others.
Most importantly, I believe that we endeavor to manifest the words from the preamble of the Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
It is from these words that we set ourselves apart from other nations. It is in these words where we find the truth and strength of what makes us great and gives us our purpose and meaning.
Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran and a senior OpsLens contributor. He served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring; his service includes time as military police, field artillery, adjutant general, and recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. He holds a master’s degree in HR Management and is a strong supporter of the Constitution and an advocate for military and veteran communities. This OpsLens article is used by permission.