Two years after 9/11, Capitol Hill beat its chest for all the world to hear. As France challenged our justification for war with Iraq, two lawmakers changed French fries to Freedom fries in the House cafeteria. It was only a small response to a growing patriotic smorgasbord: American flag factories struggled to keep up with demand. Forgetting to wear a flag lapel pin became do-or-die for any public official. People were louder and prouder. It was the Fourth of July every day.
After our taste of “shock and awe,” as the war went south and more troops died, our president told us to go shopping. Sure enough, cities went to market and police equipped themselves with tanks, M-16s and commando uniforms. However, the push to buy didn’t quite work, as the economy teetered and housing bust. We ignored the warning signs, one of which took place very quietly, in 2006, as Congress regretfully put the French back in its toast.
The new millennia swept by as only America could, with generous helpings of cognitive dissonance. We are at the same time exceptional and tragic. We are the glory of civilization but overdo it. We make history but are doomed to repeat it. We are loved and hated around the world. We’re a nation ripe with irony.