Justice Politics

The Land We’re Supposed to Love?

A sign declaring America as the land we love
Guy Nave
Written by Guy Nave

“The Land We Love”

 

An Uncritical and Romantic Understanding of America

I recently came across this 1960s U.S. Savings bond promotional film. The title of the film is “The Land We Love.”

I’m not quite sure who the “we” represents in this film.

Pay attention to the images of “Americans” presented and all of the first-person pronouns used (“we”, “us”, “our”). While the film use images and pronouns to represent Americans, the images and pronouns clearly do not represent ALL Americans.

The narrator frequently refers to America as “the land we love.” The film demonstrates that “love” by presenting a romantic and uncritical understanding of America’s past and present.

The narrator states that European “settlers” established America “as adventurous colonists came to claim the land from the wilderness.” The film, of course, says nothing about the colonists slaughtering hundreds of thousands of indigenous inhabitants and displacing them from their ancestral lands.

 

Excluding American Critics

It is this uncritical romantic understanding of America that Trump operates with as he reinvokes the theme, “the land we love,” in his ongoing attacks against four U.S. Congresswomen. These Congresswomen are Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.

The attacks began when Trump tweeted that the four Congresswomen needed to “go back” to the countries they came from. Three of the four Congresswomen were born in the United States. Congresswoman Omar came to the U.S. as a child and became a naturalized citizen when she was a teenager.

While all four Congresswomen are Americans, Trump repeatedly accuses them of hating “our country.”

Who exactly is the “our” Trump is referring to?

Like the 1960s promotional film, Trump’s use of first-person pronouns in relation to America clearly does not include all Americans.

Trump does not include the four U.S. Congresswomen who dare challenge American policies and practices among those represented in his use of first-person pronouns. Instead, he refers to the four Congresswomen with third-person pronouns (“they”, “them”, “their”).

He portrays the four Congresswomen and the Americans who agree with them as “outsiders.” They are depicted as “unAmerican”—as enemies of America—who should return to where they came from.

 

Not All of America is “America”

While Trump accuses the four Congresswomen of “hating America,” he calls a predominantly-black area of America “a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess,” where “no human being would want to live.”

The fact of the matter, however, is that hundreds of thousands of Americans live there.

While the criticisms of America by the four Congresswomen seek to challenge America to live up to its ideals, Trump’s criticism of America seeks to denigrate segments of the American population.

In order for ALL Americans to genuinely call America “OUR” land, ALL Americans have to be recognized and treated as Americans.

 

Let America be America Again

We cannot call America the land of all Americans if all Americans are not equally represented by the first-person pronouns we use to refer to America(ns).

Langston Hughes made this point nearly 85 years ago in his powerful and eloquent poem, “Let America be America Again.”

I cite one stanza here:

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

In his poem, Hughes simultaneously criticizes and embraces America as his country. This practice of simultaneously criticizing and embracing America is not a sign of hatred of America but rather a sign of belief in and love for America.

Challenging America in order to make it better—in order to encourage it to live up to its ideals—is what it means to “Love America.”

May we learn to accept, welcome, and embrace that love.

 

About the author

Guy Nave

Guy Nave

Guy Nave is a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. His research focuses on the topics of Christianity, religion and social justice, the social construction of religious meaning, and race-religion-and-politics. Professor Nave is currently researching the power, politics, and meaning behind the rhetoric of "change."

He is the author of several articles and book chapters, and he served as a New Testament Greek translator for the 2011 Common English Bible. His commentary on 2 Corinthians is published in the African American New Testament Commentary, and his book, The Role and Function of Repentance in Luke-Acts has been identified as “the standard scholarly work on repentance in the New Testament.”

Guy Nave received his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Yale University. In addition to his blog posts here, he is a frequent contributor to Sojourners Magazine's online "Commentary" blog series.