Reality check, friends: “God Bless America” is not the National Anthem. The only songs Americans should stand for are “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Here Comes the Bride.”
Even Irving Berlin, who wrote “God Bless America” in 1918, considered it so maudlin and depressing that he stuck it in a drawer. Twenty years later, as the world prepared for war, Kate Smith asked Berlin for a patriotic song for her radio show. He pulled out “God Bless America” and changed one lame line — “the gold fields up in Nome” — to an even lamer line — “oceans white with foam.” You know the rest: Smith’s version became as much a symbol of post-war patriotism as the flag, the space program and all the white people moving to the suburbs.
The song still embodies great things about America, but also our worst things: self-righteousness, forced piety, earnest self-reverence, foam.