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The portmanteau was new to me yet instantly familiar. Many times I’ve wanted to describe the uniquely American attitude but I didn’t have a suitable contraction by which to express it. Now I have and I’m sure that I will. Combining ‘America’ with ‘attitude’ produces ‘Ameritude’. It fits nicely in the mind. It somehow feels like a proper word.

I first heard the word shortly before Donald Trump appeared before an audience in Pensacola, Florida last week. Before he arrived on stage, we were entertained with a display of pure ‘Ameritude’ by a group of three young Rockettes known as the ‘Freedom Girls’. They performed the catchy little ditty called ‘Freedom’s Call’ that gifted the word to the world.

Ameritude! (USA!)
American pride! (USA!)
It’s attitude, it’s who we are, stand up tall.

It was brash, saccharine, and precisely judged to lodge annoyingly in that part of the brain where a love of melody meets outright cynicism. It also appealed to an audience energised by lines like ‘President Donald Trump knows how to make America great.’

Cynics could pull the segment apart as cynics have already done but it’s not my place to insult the youths involved and I question those that do. We should tip our hats and say ‘Nicely done, ladies’ before moving on to address the adults in the room. They certainly need addressing. Had North Korea pulled a stunt this creepy, we’d have demanded air strikes to take out their spangle factories. Was it really less cynical or disturbing because the young performers just happened to be dressed in stars and stripes and singing in English?

Ameritude feels proper because that American attitude is a concept that’s distinct and identifiable. There are many things that define America but very few that are entirely American. As ‘American as apple pie’ doesn’t really cut it. Nor, even, ‘the American dream’ which is now so universal as to be synonymous with the human dream. Ameritude is, however, totally USA. No other nation projects such a deeply held conviction of its own rightness that it needs to coin a word to express it.

Few countries also encourage this level of national pride. Europe’s nations are older and our histories less easy to reconcile with an idealised future and an even more idealised past. Patriotism is something that’s we feel that it’s good to have but bad to show, admirable to feel but somehow loathsome to express. At its best, patriotism produces national institutions that stand the test of time. At its worst, patriotism becomes a three minute song and dance number performed by brash little girls.

This is possibly unfair but America and the Americans seem almost unique in the way they buy the rhetoric that cries ‘Cowardice! / Are you serious? / Apologies for freedom? / I can’t handle this.’ But in this apparently naive sentiment is a hint of a deeper complexity. Why does America feels the need to apologise for freedom? Clearly they believe they’ve been asked to. This isn’t so much Ameritude as ‘Amerinoia’, to coin another portmanteau that is surely equally useful and very familiar. America’s attitude is born of something less wholesome that mere confidence. It is a paranoia that’s displayed throughout its national symbolism. The doubts are very evident in lines such as ‘Oh say can you see, it’s not so easy, / but we have to stand up tall and answer freedom’s call.’ The ‘oh say can you see’ is taken from the anthem and usually leads into ‘the dawn’s early light’ and image of the American flag flying over the ramparts of Fort McHenry, which the British bombarded from the sea in 1814. Yet the phrase expresses the difficulty in seeing. It certainly is ‘not so easy’. To ask ‘can you see’ implies also that you might not see. Liberty is not easily found in the murk of human affairs. Liberty was a struggle and American confidence in it is born of the uniquely American fear of losing it.

Ameritude is really then a projection of two competing sympathies. On the one hand we have the absolute belief in Freedom but also the conviction that it is only fleeting. The response is overpowering. ‘Deal from strength or get crushed every time’ is an expression of American power. Freedom is all or it is nothing and Trump’s campaign glories in strength and the power that knows no limits. Trump heralds a nation in which a tough guy can fix problems, a nation founded upon the single indelible faith in freedom. Of course, we can argue what freedom truly means but in this slightly idealistic world there is no doubt.

Except, of course, doubt is ever present. One of the characteristic traits of America is fear of the government, fear of the outsider, as well as the fear of unknown lurking within. They crystallize in the debate surrounding the Second Amendment and the defense of guns to defeat the terrorist, the government agent, the wandering loner with a grudge to settle.

It seems a long way from three young girls professing their love for the country but that is the nature of Ameritude. Every time they chime: ‘We have to stand up tall and answer freedom’s call!’ there is the implied danger of ignoring that call and all the consequences contained therein.

It is, on reflection, quite a chilling little ditty.

David Waywell writes and cartoons at his blog The Spine.


8 Comments on "Praising Ameritude"

  1. A good distillation of the American mindset Tim. It’s hard for most British people to realise America is a foreign Country with its own set of values and cultural norms. Due to our shared language and with TV and cinema it’s just seen as a bigger version of the U.K. You highlight some important differences.

  2. It’s as if whoever was organising the rally was at a loss for inspiration and then fortuitously for them a re run of Roger Ramjet appeared on the TV to help them out.

    • But admit it, Rob. Now you can’t stop humming that tune…

      • It will merely replace Yellow River David, which I unfortunately picked up on Radio 2 last week. Roger Ramjet if I remember was portrayed to be part of the US military as he got his missions from a General, he was also a total buffoon who constantly needed rescuing. Can you imagine that now?. Even the thought of a kids cartoon lampooning anything remotely connected to the armed forces wouldn’t get off the drawing board. The difference was that in the mid 60’s the USA was still a confident nation, they were miles ahead of everyone else in terms of standard of living and as a nation weren’t creaking under a monstrous weight of debt. Now (rightly so in my view) they feel their power waning and living standards slipping so poking fun at themselves is largely off the agenda. Just look at Barack Obama’s state of the union address.

        “Talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air, anyone making those claims is ‘peddling fiction’. So is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close.”

        Hmm he doth protest too much methinks.

        • Interesting point about the 1950s, a period that were unlike anything before or since. That has become, I guess, the American of most American imaginations and the America I think of when I think ‘American’. However, that paranoia or even Amerinoia has always been there, I think. It’s in the psychology of the nation which is both too large to fully control and was wrestled from the grasp of a powerful state.

          I share only part of your cynicism. I do actually believe that it is the most powerful nation on Earth but not necessarily in terms of weapons or financial might. Intellectually they are far apart, what with the new America of the Elon Musk and SpaceX, Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, and the whole new push for space. That’s the America I admire but it almost seems like it’s happening in a different country to the debates and issues in the mainstream.

  3. American patriotism is a strange thing and I have yet to find a logical basis for their insistence that they are still the greatest country on Earth. The number (if any) of American military victories since WWII are few and far between, the national debt has a staggering number of digits, they have a healthcare industry that can bankrupt you if you fall ill without insurance and, since 9/11, American freedoms have been eroded one by one. Yet their citizens will still stand up with their hands on their hearts and sing at the tops of their voices about ‘America the beautiful’.

    Maybe it’s something in the water.

    • Thanks Peter. But don’t you think that idealism is perhaps their greatest strength? Hard to imagine the space program happening without that fearless sense of wonder but confidence. It is, of course, their great flaw as well. The confidence that puts rockets on the moon also encourages them to make these ventures into the Middle East to spread their message about democracy and freedom. Yet that’s the fascinating paradox. There are simply too many intelligent Americans who don’t feel that patriotic frenzy. It makes it hard to simplify their country, even if the rest make their noises so loudly that we miss the good parts of America. That’s what I find so fascinating about the country and, indeed, the notion of Ameritude. It’s not easy to really understand and every example of unalloyed patriotism can be unwound to reveal all kinds of nasty things inside.

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