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One assumption Americans have come to depend on is Americans are the good guys—the liberators, the humanitarians, the fair-minded, the leaders—at least in the movies. Americans who are villains in film are usually greedy egomaniacs, fringe-element cultish groups, mad scientists, or rogue agencies operating secretly. Nefarious plots are foiled by the likes of John Shaft, Ethan Hunt, or Jason Bourne. In the end, the bad guys fall before the weight of law…or explode.
When I was in college, part of my job as a resident assistant in the dormitory was to lock the doors—the side doors at midnight, the front door at 2:00 am. To stay awake that long, I usually ended up sitting in the main lounge watching late night horror movies. I saw A LOT of horror movies. I couldn’t help but notice the old American horror movies always ended happily—the vampire disintegrated; the tyrannosaurus rex electrocuted; the aliens defeated. Evil never won. In contrast, European horror movies often ended with the evil force slinking off to murder another day. They were creepy! I told myself the difference was Europeans had suffered through two world wars in their yards and had lost the kind of eternal optimism Americans cherish.
But times change.
This week I watched a British spy film (Page 8) in which the British prime minister had been drawn to the dark side by members of a brutal, cold-hearted military that didn’t hesitate to torture prisoners in secret locations around the globe. He had been bought off by the Americans. What? Americans as the bad guys in a British film?
We know from recent Congressional interviews the stories of American torture are true. Americans were doing bad-guy acts. And that was before we started kidnapping children to discourage outsiders from coming to us for help and didn’t bother lending effective aid to the Puerto Rican hurricane victims—even though they’re American citizens. The White House edited the “official transcript” and video of the Helsinki Summit to eliminate a damning sentence from the record. Bans are being laid on what can be said. Information is being censored and naturalization may be revoked. I suddenly understand what Native American children felt back when Hollywood cowboys always won against Indians portrayed as perpetually savage. It’s not fun being the bad guys.
Mature Americans realize we as a people are no more pure-hearted than any other people. Each person has the capacity for great good and great evil. We held our position as world leaders with our laws and majority rule. All of us have been better than any few of us. Together we eventually struggle through our moral weaknesses to a higher plane. I suppose we must remember that any group is a reflection of its members. We can influence the whole by demonstrating the good-guy-ness we’re missing. Thousands of Americans have stepped up to do whatever they can to change the story. Millions are rising from our former apathy to stay informed by reliable sources and to vote to restore the balance our government was designed to have. Soon we’ll write a new narrative so we can feel proud again, confident that—overall—the United States is one of the good guys. After all, Americans are optimists.