The travel writer Rick Steves was asked once what qualities were "uniquely American." Steves replied that maybe the only thing that's uniquely American is the fact that we all believe we're unique.
But a recent layover in the Atlanta airport made me wonder. I think we are unique in something else. I think we are unique in our fear. We have a special brand of fear and it kind of scares the crap out of me.
We're the most well-armed nation on earth - 8 guns for every 10 of us. And we're right to be afraid because our murder rate's more than 10 times Japan's, almost 5 times that of the UK, yet we stockpile arsenals in our our panic rooms because we're terrified of the government coming for our guns like it did in those dystopian hellholes and we're having none of it. We need our guns to protect our neighborhoods for brown people with skittles and loud music and toy guns.
We pay cops to be calm when the rest of us our terrified, to have control when the rest of us lose it. Yet a judge found a Cleveland cop not guilty of murder when he unloaded 15 rounds into 2 unarmed suspects, kept shooting even after they were dead. Why wasn't he guilty? Because he was afraid. He was afraid of the two corpses in the front seat and that's just fine.
We have some of the best doctors and hospitals on earth, but we've made doctors afraid to treat us because we'll sue their lab coats off. We've got the tools to keep our kids safe but we choose not to because we're terrified that eradicating deadly diseases is all a conspiracy to make our kids sick.
At the airport, I smelled the sweat of a family from a country whose fear of germs doesn't require punishing ablutions that probably only make us sicker. They're not terrified of being outcast because they smell like human beings are supposed to smell.
I saw walls of bottled water because we're afraid of the water that comes out of our taps. With rare exceptions, our water is some of the cleanest on the planet - cholera and parasites and dysentery are as foreign to us as the bubonic plague. Clean water is so cheap and plentiful that we're farming the desert and yet we pay $3 for water from some other tap.
At a magazine stand I saw a wall of white faces and perfect bodies because we're terrified of diversity. Too many black faces on our magazine covers make racists fear they're being eclipsed and the magazine editors are afraid of the money they'll lose racist dollars.
The bookstores are full of books about ISIL, Boko Haram, the brown menace du jour is coming for us.
You know, everybody throws a fit about the fact that a few of us want to take under God out of the pledge... maybe we should focus less on under God and more on indivisible and with justice for all. Because we make our kids intone that lie every morning, and I don't even know what justice for all even looks like.