“We love our story. Sure, it’s messy, but it’s the story that got us here.”
As a combat veteran of over four decades of service, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, I feel nothing less than disgust for those who wrap themselves in the flag of “I am more American than you” and vomit prejudice and hate from positions of high office.
Donald Trump recently did just that, and if that isn’t deplorable enough, he was vindicated, praised even, by one of our Montana senators — Steve Daines — for doing so. As a Montanan, an American, and a world citizen with travel to almost 40 countries on five continents, I concluded long ago that America represents the best, and the worst, of humanity.
On the one hand, we are a nation of bullish immigrants: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to be free,” with a long history of accepting those seeking a better way of life, if not for themselves, then for their children. It’s what makes America. It’s why people from all over the planet migrate here and can say with chest-swelling pride: “I am an American.” It is the essence of the American Dream.
Concurrently, we also have an odious history of slavery, institutional genocide, and often times violent prejudice against those that are “different” or somehow deemed a threat to the body politic. There was always someone, some group of people, that endangered the status quo and were perceived to be “unAmerican,” “traitorous,” and “the enemy.” It is, by far, the most hideous aspect of our country’s history and one that continues to haunt us 243 years after the birth of our nation.
Sadly, by inciting racial bias against four American congresswomen, Trump and company, and yes, Steve Daines, fall victim to those worst aspects of human nature, to that which provokes rather than unifies and ultimately leads to hubris and hatred.
Let me say this: If America had a sound president, one that could lead rather than divide; one that has hope and vision; one that can set an azimuth to a better America, then I would be the first to call that person “my president.” Instead, we have an untutored colossus, spouting ignorant, ill-conceived rhetoric and who is of the misguided notion that their opinions will be accepted simply because of the office they hold. And to have a Congressman from our beloved state echo this bombast makes me sad and angry, and is the primary reason I’m sitting here now, typing out this rebuttal to both Trump…and Daines.
Despite all this, I, as an American, also possess a uniquely American attribute: optimism. A trait so American that Alexis de Tocqueville observed that “Americans have a lively faith in the perfectibility of man … they all consider society as a body in a state of improvement.” I also share this vision that as we continue to grow as a nation, we will have a better future, despite the Donald Trumps and the Steve Daines, who are nothing more than dismal figures that will eventually be relegated to America’s historical landfill.
And, as a veteran, I must believe that why I served is as important as the service itself. I served because I believe in this country — for better or worse — and cannot see me living in any other place on planet earth. My service was to all Americans and when someone says to me: “Thank you for your service,” My reply to that person, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, or birthplace is this: “You were worth it.”
Michael Jarnevic is a retired US Army sergeant major with 42 years of continuous service in both the USMC and US Army Special Forces. Currently, he is a freelance writer, outdoor lecturer, and environmental activist residing outside of Missoula.