Ten years ago this month I was going through a rough patch. By “rough patch” what I mean is emotional stress. Alienation. Feelings of hopelessness and despair. I treaded dangerously close to what some might call a “nervous breakdown.”

9/11 had just happened; the country was still reeling from a fast and furious attack. Vengeance, hatred, and fear were becoming the recurring thoughts on talk radio, in op-ed columns, from Washington, and in everyday conversation. Sikhs were being attacked on the street by ignorant Americans (this trend has continued 10 years later). Racial profiling of Arabs and religious profiling of Muslims suddenly seemed not just acceptable, but was being demanded.

The United States had just started bombing the hell out of Afghanistan, a remarkably poor country that had been consistently war-torn for over 20 years. The first echoes of the eventual invasion of Iraq (TOTALLY unrelated to 9/11) were rolling out of a power-drunk administration. The country’s thirst for blood was conquering all logic, reason, and restraint.

Even people’s attitudes were angry, and fearful, and vengeful. I found I couldn’t relate to or talk with anyone. Old friends, with whom I had long been in line in terms of policy, I now found myself at polar opposites with. Newer relationships, already tenuous, seemed in danger of fracturing at even the slightest mention of current events. My older brother was talking about dropping out of his lucrative and long-studied-for career to instead enter the military.

We (the country) had been cold-cocked. We were dazed, confused, stumbling, and looking anywhere for someone to hit back.

Up was down. Black was white. Nothing was comfortable, no one was familiar and, in short, I couldn’t find anything to believe in. One day at work, while trying to pen a response to a racist and upsetting email from an old friend, I suddenly broke down in tears. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t type, I couldn’t think. My coworkers were very understanding. They listened, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

Ten years later, I find myself in a similar spot. And it hasn’t been an easy ten years either. With two long wars costing over $1.2 trillion, over 6,200 service members killed (almost double the lives lost in 9/11) and hundreds of thousands more disabled, over 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq, countless assaults on our civil liberties, a second decade of falling wages for 90% of Americans, skyrocketing health care costs, college debt rising, a fraudulent banking scandal that triggered an abrupt drop in home values (the primary asset of most US households) and an international financial crisis, in turn causing the worst economic recession in 80 years which may yet turn out to be worse than the Great Depression.

And in the wake of those economic woes, we’ve seen an awful lot of scapegoating result. From the media power machine of the right we’ve heard blame directed at blacks and the poor (for buying houses they couldn’t afford), democrats (for wanting to make it easier for people to afford homes), immigrants (legal or illegal, it doesn’t seem to matter), unions, teachers, Barack Obama (who wasn’t even elected yet when the crisis started) and of course, liberals in general (for nothing other than being liberal, I presume).

Meanwhile, not a single prosecution has occurred of any of the individuals or corporations responsible for inventing fraudulent investment vehicles such as credit default swaps and other derivatives. Nor for selling these products to investors while at the same time creating and investing in hedge funds that were betting against those derivatives’ success.

In states across the nation we’re seeing drastic cuts to successful state programs; programs that save people’s lives, help them to be self-sufficient, find jobs, stay off drugs, learn to read, stay married, escape domestic abuse, conserve energy, drink clean water and breathe clean air.

We’re seeing public workers targeted by mean-spirited legislation, schools being defunded, consumer protections drastically eroding in the name of tort reform, and unilateral efforts by one party to make it considerably harder, if not illegal, for large numbers of people to vote. What’s more, these laws are passing with little to no public debate, no studies or legitimate rationale, and no media or public consideration for the real motive that is behind them: doing anything possible to secure power for the Republican party and therefore protect the interests of the nation’s most privileged.

Of course, since we’re facing the most polarized congress ever, we can’t actually expect any beneficial or relevant action to come out of the government; not even on an issue with incredible public support. Because to do so would signal cooperation with the “enemy” and might even result in a political victory for our President. And moderate Republicans (previously targeted by Democrats as a possible seat win) are being beaten out or scared into compliance by the will of an angry, and ignorant tea party being driven mindlessly by the hateful, fear-laced, and largely inaccurate rhetoric of hundreds of corporate-funded voices found online, in opinion columns, on all of the major networks, and across the AM dial countrywide.

Not that it matters if they are ignorant. They don’t need facts, because they already have their opinion, and they are only interested in reinforcing that opinion. It turns out that when you confront most people with hard and provable facts that contradict their beliefs, they are driven even further to their fallacy and no amount of proof can change their minds. See this Boston Globe article about a study done by the University of Michigan that found, “when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.” Now that is something I don’t want to believe.

It’s so bad that even longtime conservative minds, with objective analysis and sound policy suggestions, are having trouble finding a place in the new anti-intellectual right. David Frum, whom I respect very much and often found great value in his conservative economic opinion, recently abandoned his post on NPR’s Marketplace after several years of countering Robert Reich every other Thursday. His reason? “I’m just not representing the view of most people who call themselves Republicans and conservatives these days.

But even if the Tea Party were to dissolve into nothingness, we’d still have a government and mass media controlled by corporations (and therefore, the wealthy), which results in misled public opinion and policy decisions that continuously benefit the wealthiest and most powerful (be they persons or corporations). And with a supreme court that seems hell-bent on reinforcing legalized bribery with 5-4 majority opinions that somehow conclude that corporations are people and that money=speech, it doesn’t look like we have much hope of correcting the 150 year old trend that has robbed us of our democracy.

So after that sobering stroll through the way things are, perhaps you now understand the thought process that has me lurking in the doldrums.

I live in a powerful country that is controlled by (and only works for) wealthy special interests who influence lawmakers and executives who rely on their donations to win the votes of a largely uninformed populace that is losing the struggle to maintain their standard of living. It’s getting worse, faster, and with more and more support from the very people whom it is hurting. The fact that we’re targeting teachers and defunding education just adds insult to injury because the less-educated the populace, the less chance they’ll catch wise to the heartless shenanigans being perpetrated against them.

Needless to say, this makes it hard for me to get through the day.

I’m left with no faith in my Congress, no faith in my President, certainly no faith in my Supreme Court, no faith in my economy, no faith in our media, and no faith in our populace to be smart enough to actually focus on and pay attention to what the real problems are. Frankly, this really pisses me off! I honestly do want to stick my head out the window and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

I’m sure some of you might be saying, “Why do you let it get to you? Can’t you just forget about all that crap and enjoy the good things?” And you’d be right; this is sage advice.

I could just live my life, enjoy watching good movies, and exercising, and spending time with friends and loved ones, and being outdoors, and eating good food. After all, I have been fortunate enough that the government’s incompetence and the economy’s plight have had very little direct effect on me. Sure, my pay hasn’t gone up much these past few years. My home value has dropped and my 401(k) doesn’t look very good. But I’m healthy, as is my family. I haven’t lost my job (fortunately) or been evicted. I have health insurance (again, thanks to the job) and it’s good. I eat healthily. My community is generally safe. So why does all of this get to me?

Here’s my reason (and you’re probably going to laugh)…Patriotism.

As an American citizen, I feel a deep devotion to my country. The United States is a grand experiment, and one worth fighting for. It is my home, and I want it to continue to be the type of place where I want to live.

I am a patriot, and therefore I truly feel it is my responsibility to stay informed, to make sure my government is acting in the best interest of its people, to criticize my government when it is failing or committing atrocities. I believe a patriot abhors abuses of power, no matter what party commits them. A patriot defends the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, and especially above the rights of its corporations. A patriot protects the lands and resources of his country, protects the flora and fauna that lives there, and protects the air and water that sustains them. Patriotism demands a watchful eye, an inquisitive mind, and especially an impassioned heart.

And so it is my patriotism that drives me to acknowledge these problems, to examine them, to keep aware and to look for ways that I can help to solve them. Patriotism compels me to care for our lands, our way of life, and despite my liberal dilemma, our populace.

I want all Americans (at least the voting ones) to be legitimately informed, objective, and curious so that we can together reclaim the power of our republic and start solving the problems that have confounded us so. And once I identified that desire, Gandhi’s words again echo in my head, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That is what drives me to my current state, a state that leaves me reeling. The depth and breadth and magnitude of this conjunction of economic, social, and political woes is so great that I fear any action I could muster would be futile. I am clueless as to how to start improving it, and am tempted rather to relinquish and wallow in my growing feelings of hopelessness and despair.

My government seems incapable of abandoning political squabbling to address serious issues.

My media seems incapable of reporting news that is actually important, relevant, unbiased, and accurate.

My fellow citizens seem incapable of critical thinking, of questioning their information sources, or of accepting facts that contradict (and may therefore change) their opinion.

I’m an educated, agitated, and frustrated patriot and I just want something to believe in.

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