WHAT IS AMERICA: It's More Than a Place
As we move into another year, yesterday's headlines give us pause. That our press and other media focus on tragedy, failure and shortcomings may leave us with a sense of despair. We often hear that we are the greatest nation in history, yet the headlines suggest otherwise. We hear carping and receive criticism from around the world for that which we do, or that which we don't. Are we that bad, or do we suffer from an unjustified insecurity complex? Perhaps, we simply forget who we are.
America is not a race or ethnicity, but stands alone as the world's melting pot of all races and ethnicities. More significantly, America is a place where one is neither advanced nor restrained by heritage. True, we bear the historic scars of slavery, though we risked the demise of our nation in a war to end it. While many still dwell in differences, however, the majority of us go about our days dealing with each other as equals; with more in common than not, limited only by our personal choices and actions.
As we enter another presidential election cycle, many of us - perhaps most - are cynical about the prospects. We have endured decades of a political elite motivated by self-interest and perpetuating their office, rather than limited service for the public good. We hear from politicians of the problems we face - and how government, alone, can fix them. Yet this is not America. America is the handful of "Mr. Smiths" going to Washington and our statehouses, with a sense of duty and a goal of betterment for their fellow citizens through the limited role of governing. America is self-sufficiency, not a nanny state. America is not the politician, but the statesman, however few.
Thanks to a morbid fascination with celebrity, America is tainted with an inaccurate portrayal as spoiled, superficial, irresponsible, and given to excess. Miley Cyrus is an American; America is not Miley Cyrus. There are far too many Americans that lead lives filled with crime, addiction, abuse, laziness or other human failures. They are Americans - but they are not America.
So what IS America?
America is the millions of moms that lead challenging and fulfilling lives as homemakers or perform work outside the home. Whatever their demands, they find joy in listening to their kids read a story, making sandwiches for the entire neighborhood, volunteering for an endless array of charities, or simply sharing the blessings of a contented home. Many are not paid for all they do, except in smiles and hugs and a knowledge that they are needed and loved.
America is the vast majority of dads that work to provide for their families, fight to defend their country, and provide the necessary anchor in life despite their worries or troubles. They debate the issues of the day out of concern for the future of others, not for themselves. They make time for a day of fishing, a school open house, or a needed hug. They shoulder their burdens with a stoic shrug and a smile. That's just what they do. They are dads. They are America.
America is the endless array of kids that stream from classrooms to playgrounds or after-school activities and jobs. They are good, decent, respectful, talented, and kind. Despite a propensity for pushing the edge in fashion, their hearts are innocent. They grow up to attend college, or work in a trade, or to contribute in any number of ways. They look after their siblings, and their parents in later years, as they become the "next generation." They become the defenders of our nation and our way of life. They serve. For all the concerns we voice through their maturation, they turn out OK.
America is a vast patchwork of friends, neighbors, family, and associates. While it celebrates the individual, it recognizes the power of collaboration among those of like minds, hearts, and spirit. America is working together, socializing together, and achieving together.
America is a nation of immigrants - traditionally, with one fundamental and common objective: to be an American. They come from different cultures and countries to call America home; to adopt its values, to learn its language, and to embrace its beliefs. They come to give all they can, and to take only what they need. They are secure in knowing that freedom and opportunity will bless them beyond their greatest expectations. There is no hyphen in “American.”
America is an army of givers, caretakers, and volunteers, assisting those in need, whether temporary or lifelong. They build what is needed and rebuild that which is broken. They feed, clothe, and shelter without questioning, judging, or condemning; their hearts are their guides. They perform good deeds through institutions and organizations, or quietly, on their own.
America is a steward of the physical world around it. It is not without failures or mistakes, but it owns up to them and strives to be better. It is mindful of its place in the physical world; mindful of its example to others. It avoids fads and trends for political expediency, preferring the wisdom of science and reason. It constantly works to be better and to create a better world for others - and it does. America IS exceptional, though Americans are generally too humble to say so.
America is a workplace of dedicated and highly trained contributors in all fields of endeavor. It is a place of creativity and innovation that is the marvel of the world. It produces more, invents more, and contributes more than any nation on earth. It responds to needs, whether natural or man-made, turning challenges into opportunities. It hungers for knowledge, thrives on achievement, and shares its successes with future generations and fellow nations, expecting nothing in return.
America is a protector of fairness and restraint. Despite criticisms to the contrary, both foreign and domestic, it is not an empire builder or a conqueror. It has freed millions from tyranny, saved millions more from hunger, and inspired other millions who were lost. While far from perfect, it is still the beacon of liberty to the world, and who would take its place? Who among its critics would prefer life in a world without it?
America is a spiritual and moral nation. It is a nation founded in a Christian philosophical tradition, maintaining at least some adherence to those beliefs among the large majority of its citizens. It promotes a tolerance for all belief systems, and for those holding none at all. Saints and sinners are on equal ground, as are atheists, agnostics, and those of all faiths. It protects the right to speak and to believe as private choices dictate, requiring only that our individual actions abide our collective moral principles.
America is not simply a place or a people – it is an idea. It is the embodiment of freedom, created by the reasoned intellect, dedication to principle, and steadfast determination of its founders. Its birth was baptized in the blood of those who placed liberty above all else. They did not yet know the greatness of America, only that which liberty could encourage it to be. They framed that idea in our Declaration of Independence, asserting the fundamental equality and God-given liberty of all men, and the right to institute a government to secure all other rights, as well as to alter or abolish it. The success or failure of that great idea lies in whether each generation lives up to the hallowed canons they inherited.
Upon departing the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, a woman hailed Benjamin Franklin: “Well, Doctor Franklin, what have you given us – a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A Republic – if you can keep it.” The question to us now is, “can we?”
"America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. "
~ Alexis de Tocqueville