What's So Great About it?
Revised from Sierra Sage Magazine, July 2004
They hate us - or so we hear. From Europe to Mexico, from Canada to Africa - the world is at odds with the United States. "Who appointed us the world's policeman?" "How can we justify the consumption of more resources than other nations?" "Who are we to impose our democratic, capitalist way of life on others?" Of course, the major media and much of our educational establishment echoes these "hate America" slogans (while they prosper under the umbrella of its blessings).
Ask any of these critics, though, "If not America, then who?" Ask them "What kind of world would it be if not for the United States of America?" The answer is likely to be a stuttered and feeble explanation, a derisive side step or an embarrassed silence.
In fact, the United States is by broad measure the greatest country on earth, and likely in the history of civilization. By accomplishment alone, such a proclamation would be hard to deny. But it's in the essence of its guiding principles, its character, and its leadership that our country has risen to this noble place in history.
The founding principles of this nation are a distillation of the great thoughts on liberty from the Greeks and Romans through the English empire from which we sought and achieved our emancipation. Jefferson and his fellow patriots found the ultimate simplicity in defining our basis for existence as "self-evident" and "endowed by our Creator."
While our freedom is threatened both from within and without, we are still the freest nation on earth. Our system of justice and equality, while imperfect, is the most universally embraced and promulgated in the world. Our spirit of independence has been weakened by decades of increased reliance on well-intending government programs, though we still cherish and defend it. America remains the world's greatest forum in which to seek and pursue personal happiness and to realize one’s dreams, whether simple or lofty. Too often, we forget the costs inherent in preserving liberty, but seeing cadres of young people volunteer and serve in our armed forces remind us, once again.
The presence of government in our lives has grown leviathan-like, but unlike many other governments, it is still limited by restraints at our disposal if the balance tips too far. Our government is still, in fact, a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." If it becomes abusive or unresponsive as perceived by the people, a mark on a ballot, a citizen initiative, or a popular recall can place it in check. Should it become destructive to the ends for which it was formed, still greater power is enshrined in our right "to alter, or abolish it."
If the structure of our country is a marvel to the world, the character of its inhabitants is even more so.
Americans are among the most giving and compassionate on earth. When disaster strikes anywhere in the world, there is an outpouring of love, concern and most visible, action, that speaks volumes for the kind of people we are. Whether those in trouble are friends or strangers, allies or enemies, it requires only a "need" to rally the response of the Americans to come to their aid. Tragedy in the world is never met with indifference, and the response from this country is on all levels. Even in times of war, we have responded to attack by our enemies by defeating them - and then assisting in rebuilding their broken nations. The response can be no less for a nation born of Christian traditions - and it never is.
An American birthright is optimism. From the daunting revolution that gave life to our nation, we have always responded to adversity. If the glass is half-empty, we will fill it. If the battle exceeds our ability, we will rise to it. If the need is greater than our capacity, we will somehow meet it. Whether soaring to the unknown risks of heavenly exploration, or facing the inevitable challenges on earth, Americans have the courage, tenacity, and inventiveness to shrink from nothing that appears to limit them.
To an outsider, the picture painted by our television and other entertainment venues would be one of moral decay, depravity, and self- indulgence to an extreme. A closer examination, however, would reveal a nation of people much more committed to virtue than those public vignettes suggest. We are still a nation of Godly principles and of virtuous intentions. We are very aware of our human limitations and the difficulty of achieving good in our thoughts and deeds. The battle of preserving personal choice, while offering public example, is challenging and the pendulum invariably swings back to a more virtuous position over time.
Our "melting pot" texture has sadly become a pot of mixed vegetables with separate needs and wants, rather than a collective culture reflecting the best of all its elements. Still, we are tolerant and considerate of needs arising from differences. To a fault sometimes, we accommodate such differences, and the costs are burdensome. As a result, we are often challenged and sometimes divided; but we remain the most tolerant people in the world. The very nature of our freedom compels us to be.
The leadership of the world is in the hands of the Americans. It has not happened by choice, but by natural progression based on the truths embodied in our founding principles. It won’t be altered by one transitional presidency, or one election. Our political foundations are still the model for all the world that is free, or yearns to be. Every emerging country, if the truth were told, would strive for a constitution and a system of opportunity and justice much like ours. The model of reward by achievement has given rise to inventiveness and economic success that is the envy of the world.
Therein lies the basis for much of the so-called "hatred" for America. It is not just our own lives that are enriched by tangible achievement; the lives of people around the world have been enhanced because of advances, inventions, and trade made possible by the wealth of America. The world has adopted English as a universal language for a reason - and that reason is the leadership of America in science, technology, and commerce.
As suggested, our moral principles may not always the purest or the most "correct." Still, they offer the world's best hope for fair and equitable treatment of its citizens. Despite its limitations and its failures, the moral leadership of the United States is still, objectively, the fairest standard available to mankind. Would we substitute that of the Middle East, where a woman might be stoned to death for adultery? Or that of some nations where mere dissent is grounds for murder? Our moral code is far from perfect, in either its design or its implementation, but it is the best there is.
If the French or Germans or Canadians were to be attacked, where would they look for military support? Russia? China? Poland? Libya? The answer is painfully clear. The mere presence or proximity of American military in or to foreign nations has given comfort to them in very real terms. As such, other nations spend a fraction for defense as compared to the U.S. - they don't have to pay for it, because we do. There is security in possessing the most powerful military might in the history of the world. There is also great duty in using it to help ensure world peace. America has met its duty time after time, and continues to do so - even when mocked by those who lead lives in peace as a result of it.
If there is a weakness among Americans, it is excess modesty. Too often we fail to recognize the greatness of our nation and the example it sets for those in the rest of the world. They sometimes envy us; they often emulate us; and they always depend on us for their comfort and protection. They wish and strive for what we have achieved, and what we are generous in sharing. The fact is, they don't hate us - and most are mindful daily of the sinister world that would exist without us.
We must remain confident, not arrogant; we must be humble in our good fortune. We must never, though, apologize for the greatness of our nation, nor the means and sacrifice by which that greatness was achieved. God has blessed this great nation, and we pray He will continue to do so. Though we celebrate independence this one day, we must remember it every day. Freedom is not free.
“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults. "
~ Alexis de Tocqueville