Another July 4th approaches, and for most Americans it is a day of fireworks, hot dogs, and wearing patriotic clothing. I’d like to talk about what is sometimes forgotten in all the celebration; what makes America great.
Part of what makes America great is our ability to be able to celebrate July 4th in peace without the fear of an army coming and taking away our property, freedom, or our lives. For the past two hundred years, America has been one of the most stable and safe countries on earth. We have only been attacked on our own soil a few times, and except for the damage we inflicted on ourselves in the civil war, have never suffered the kind of devastation nearly all the countries of Europe suffered in world war two. Our government and constitution are among the oldest and most enduring in the world.
But safety, stability, and security don’t make a nation great. Nor does it mean much to a people oppressed and made powerless by their own government. Not only does America have one of the oldest continuous governments in the world, but that government has always been one of the most free in the world. America was the first nation since the ancient era to allow the people to govern instead of a monarch or other sort of top/down approach. And with that came radical changes to the fundamental nature of a nation.
The first and most important to our political system, is what it means to be loyal. In a dictatorship, loyalty is to the ruler, and believing the official line that the government tells you to believe. In America, loyalty is not to anyone person but to the nation as a whole. And most important, loyalty means questioning that leader. Thinking critically and honestly about what is right and best. America is founded on an open exchange of ideas and facts. That is why Americans can easily watch as the rulers of this nation make laws. Freedom of speech and press is not just a right, it is the foundation of our entire system. Even other nations that hold mostly free elections and would be considered democracies don’t have the kind of absolute freedom of speech to express ideas that we do, even in Europe. In Turkey one can be arrested for insulting “Turkishness” or questioning the official line on the Armenian genocide that states that it didn’t happen. In France, Germany, and elsewhere holocaust denial and expressing extremist ideas can land you in jail. In America, even those who follow so ideologies so antagonistic to the rest of society as neo-nazism or engage in acts such as flag burning are allowed to do so. One might expect that allowing extremists to preach freely would make them more popular than in countries where they are suppressed. In fact, the opposite is the case. America with the most free standards on free speech in the world is also one of the few countries to never face a serious threat of an internal revolution by either fascists or communists. Because in America, ideas are not spread through the use of force, but by words. By dialog. And because they spread that way, the best more often prevail.
Just as open political diversity is a foundation of our nation, so are other types of diversity. Some like to claim that America is a Christian nation. Or a white nation. They are wrong. What unites Americans is not ethnicity or religion, like in some other countries, but the democratic ideals of our nation. Being a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist does not make anyone less of an American. Nor does being Anglo-Saxon, African American, Hispanic, or Asian. America is one of the most diverse nations in the the world, and is better for it.
Of course, America has had it’s share of problems. We have sometimes failed to live up to the ideas that have made us great. For most of our nations history, we treated a large part of our population as 2nd or 3rd class citizens because of the color of their skin. We have given into the temptation to try to silence by force or intimidation voices for unpopular viewpoints. We failed to resolve disputes through peaceful means and fought a civil war. In our zeal to protect our own liberty and prosperity, we have sometimes denied it to the people of other nations. But we have overcome many of those problems, because people stood up and got involved. Because of the open dialog that has made our nation great. And we still have many problems to overcome. America was never made better by men who talked about how great it was. It was always those who spent all of their time criticizing America and talking about what was bad about it who forced us to move closer to the American ideal and make progress.
Than why do I choose to talk about what is good in America? We’ll, most of the time I focus on what is wrong. But it is good to on occasion go back and remind ourselves of what we have done right. Of what we have and how lucky we are to have it. But most of all, what we need to preserve and guard. Some Americans like to retreat into apathy, believe that we can’t fix things. But we have, and we can. We owe a great debt to the founders, soldiers, statesman, and average citizens who stood up so that we might have what we have. We must work to preserve that heritage and do our part to make America what we want America to continue to be, a beacon of good governance, prosperity, and freedom.