There's been a lot of America bashing lately. And it's not just coming from the left. Barack Obama took a lot of heat when he said “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” And Michelle Obama was soundly criticized for saying her husband's nomination was the first time she had been proud of her country. Yet, the same people who were so offended by the Obama's seeming lack of patriotism were the first to jump on the Trump bandwagon with his slogan promise to "Make America Great Again."
For many of us, that hit a sour note. What does he mean, "Make America Great AGAIN?" I thought America was pretty terrific already. From my perspective, a lot of Trump supporters really wanted to make it 1950 again. Sure, there was a lot to be said for 1950. We had stable families, more job security, better values. But to many people, 1950 wasn't so great. Especially if you were a woman, or a minority.
Recently, Laura Ingraham lamented that “In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically in some ways the country has changed. Now much of this is related to both illegal, and in some cases, legal immigration that, of course, progressives love.”
And now we have New York Governor Andrew Cuomo jumping into the fray with his recent comment “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great."
When did we quit believing America was great? When did we quit teaching our children that America was great? How did we manage to elect leaders who no longer can say that America is the greatest country in the world? If you spend a lot of time on social media, you've probably seen that clip from Aaron Sorkin's show "The Newsroom," where Jeff Daniels character goes off on a tirade on how America is not great. If you haven't watched it, go Google it. It's truly a masterpiece of liberal smugness. I was astonished at how many of my friends not only posted it but share the sentiment.
Well, all of these people are wrong. America was a great nation. It still IS a great nation. America is absolutely the greatest country in the world. Just look at all the great things Americans have given the world. We invented the airplane, microwave, telephones, air conditioning, rock and roll and the chocolate chip cookie! We brought the world baseball, basketball and football (the real kind, not that sissy kind that they play in Europe.) We were the first to land a man on the moon. We helped save the world, first from the Nazis, then from the Communists. And in the words of our former Secretary of State Colin Powell, “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace.”
But that's not why America is the greatest country in the world. Other countries have fought great battles and created great art. But unlike those countries, we are not bound by a common race, language and history. We are not bound together by a geographic location. No, America was founded on and held together by an idea. The idea that all men were created equal. That all we needed were the freedom and the opportunity to succeed. That anyone, regardless of where or what they came from, could make it here.
We have not always lived up to this idea. It has been said that slavery was the original sin of this country. And its legacy still tears at us today. But at least it's a sin we've tried to atone for. It's a sin we fought a war to correct.
But for me, the essence of America's greatness was defined by our 40th president in his farewell address:
"America represents something universal in the human spirit. I received a letter not long ago from a man who said, 'You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won't become a German or a Turk.' But then he added, 'Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.'"
A person becomes an American by adopting America's principles, especially those principles summarized in the "self-evident truths" of the Declaration of Independence, such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Carl Friedrich wrote that "To be an American is an ideal, while to be a Frenchman is a fact."
Maybe Laura Ingraham needs to go back and listen to that speech again. America is not being ruined by all of those people coming here to be free. America was made great by all of those people who came here to be free. You'd think that a guy whose grandparents came to this country from Italy and became store owners would appreciate that more.
If there is anything threatening America's greatness, it is that people no longer believe in this idea. A lot of people share Ingraham's opinion that the America they love is being changed. And there are a lot of people who share Cuomo's belief that America was never that great to begin with. All of these people are wrong. America was great and IS still great because it is still unique among all the countries of the world. It's the only place where it's possible for anyone to BECOME an American.
We just need to keep believing in that.