I used to think I loved America. I used to fully believe in its greatness.
Growing up, I bought into its songs and its anthems and its stirring mythology of liberty and opportunity, which I guess was understandable. For a suburban, cisgender, heterosexual male who identified as Christian, they were as true for me as for anyone. They were all I’d ever known. That version of America had always been available to me, even if it was out of reach for most people.
But the more I had my eyes opened by travel and experience and curiosity and education, the more I saw the cracks in the glistening whitewashed facade, and into the cavernous decay underneath. It is a sickness that seems more pervasive and profound than ever. As bad as I’ve come to realize it has always been, in many ways it feels far worse now.
Lately, I’m realizing that I really don’t like this nation very much: not the one we have been and certainly not the one I see us becoming.
I don’t like the fierce denial of Science. I don’t like the mindless MAGA cultism. I don’t like a cruel white Christian Church devoid of a compassionate Jesus of color. I don’t like the unrepentant brutality of our law enforcement.
I don’t like a political party fully beholden to a traitorous monster. I don’t like the racists emboldened to bully store clerks and harass black teenagers. I don’t like seeing people I love devoured by baseless conspiracy. I don’t like realizing how many people I know harbor white supremacy. I don’t like so much of this place.
My adversaries tell me I should just get out, and on many days I agree with them. I confess to regularly daydreaming about leaving it all behind, about beginning again somewhere else: about escaping the coming flood of fascism that feels unstoppable, avoiding my increasingly hateful neighbors, and cutting off my untethered family members. Yet, I know even having the option to do such things is a symptom of my privilege and a luxury many cannot afford; people who will remain here regardless of what happens because their forebears had stayed.
And so even though I really don’t like America, I’m trying to stay in America, too.
I’m trying to stay because my children and so many other people’s children deserve to inherit something less like what this place is, and more like the place it could be: the nation the songs declare we are but have not yet been.
I’m trying to stay to show people that Christianity is not what they’ve been told it is by this MAGA, Bible Belt bastardization with a bloodthirsty, gun-toting, white Republican Jesus with no love for his neighbors.
I’m trying to stay to stand up to the grocery store bullies and the mosque door vandals and the social media terrorists and the truck flag bigots, to let them know that they don’t have the run of the house just because they have had a kindred spirit in the White House or steadfast advocates in the highest levels of Congress.
I’m trying to stay to be a builder of the country I dream of living in, the one whose glory I have seen brief flashes of; the one that has always been made better by good people who decided to be loud in the face of a really powerful violence that seemed to be winning.
I’m trying to stay here and get my hands dirty, instead of watching from a safe distance and praying someone does something to keep it all from hitting the fan, because that’s how we ended up here.
Most of all I’m trying to stay because I’ve done my time and made my mark and earned my scars—and I’m not about to let anyone threaten me or push me or shout me out of here: because diversity is worth fighting for, because going backwards is not an option, because the shared outrage of decent human beings is more necessary here than ever.
And yes, I fully believe it’s all going to get worse before it gets better, but I’m staying so that hopefully the worse isn’t quite as bad and so the better arrives a little bit sooner. I am going to be that light which resists a nation growing ever darker.
If things continue to devolve and our systems further fail and fascism gets a greater foothold, I may decide that remaining here is morally impossible.
But for now, I’m going to roll up my sleeves, steady myself, double my resolve, and work tirelessly alongside millions of others here, who don’t like America but who care deeply about the disparate people who deserve a much better version of it.
I love liberty and equality and diversity, and America still has a shot at being home to these things. For now, that is enough reason to stay.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com