June 1, 2005

Hero or Traitor?

Last night Deep Throat was on TV. No, it wasn't a new Fox reality show (but it can't be far off) but the old nemesis of our very own Richard M. Nixon. The local news led the story with the teaser, "Hero or Traitor?"

It occurs to me that they've missed the point. They've all missed the point. In this era of "you're with us or you're with the terrorists," everyone is very eager to choose sides, to force you to be in one camp or another. If you're not a Bush Republican, then you're a liberal girly-man. If you don't sport a "support our troops" magnet on your car, then you're a terrorist-loving, Newsweek-reading, Dan Rather-watching traitor. If you watch Fox News Channel, then you're a weak-minded pawn of the religious Right.

But reasonable, educated people understand that that is not the truth in America. The American truth is one of nuance, of living in the gray area and acknowledging all the shades of white to black and all the hues of the rainbow. The American truth is one where a person can be a hero while doing traitorous things, or a traitor while acting heroically.

The American truth is one which gets reinterpreted over time. Who today knows that John Dickinson's use of "by uniting we stand, by dividing we fall" meant not that the colonies should unite in rebellion against British tyranny but that the colonies should unite to negotiate with the crown in order to stay part of the British empire? Yet the phrase was used by the colonists as a rallying cry to unite in rebellion. Nuance. Starting from the same place yet ending up with very different results.

This is America's past and its heritage. It is America's strength. Hero? Traitor? Hero and traitor. It's a paradox and ambiguous duality (multiplicity?) with which the extreme left and the extreme right are extremely uncomfortable.

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