What do you think makes America great? Yes, let's put aside recent political slogans and focus on what we believe America really is.
Because we know it's more than just a country. America is a collection of principles and beliefs, a ‘Great Experiment’ in granting citizens unprecedented freedoms and influence over government. America has made its share of mistakes, but its continued growth and progress (from abolishing slavery to passing laws condemning discrimination) are proof that its guiding virtues make us unique in the world.
Most countries are much older than America and have roots in a single, ethnic group. People who lived in a specific part of the world, over time, grew into communities, cities, and then nations. Their values, religious beliefs, laws, and customs are reflected in hundreds of years of shared experiences, both good and bad.
Not so with the United States. While the earliest citizens were mostly former English subjects, the principles that shaped our government weren't rooted in a culture or history, but ideas birthed out of the Enlightenment era and, yes, a Judeo-Christian heritage.
This paved the way for a nation that embraced people of different countries and cultures. We are a patchwork of immigrants who flocked to this nation to enjoy freedoms unheard of in other parts of the world. Over the course of our 200+ year history, we've seen waves of people emigrate to the United States, seeking economic opportunity or fleeing oppression.
Such a unique dynamic isn’t without its challenges. While we have benefitted immensely from new peoples joining our nation, there has been a history of cultural conflict. This is no one's fault; it's in our nature as humans to be mistrustful of strange customs and beliefs different from our own.
The fact that we have done so well to embrace people who are different- even with the friction- is a testament to our country's principles and values.
So what makes American great? Its people? Its laws? Its history? You ask a variety of people; you'll get a variety of answers.
But I believe, beyond our culture, laws, history, or way of life, what makes America great are its people.
Shaped by common hopes and dreams, and given unique freedoms and opportunities, we've seen generations of Americans do the impossible. From creating inventions that have changed the world to laying down their lives to save it, Americans have been setting a gold standard for every other nation in how its people behave.
Sure, I'm biased. But this is the nation that helped destroy the Nazis, bring down the Berlin wall, made the automobile viable, and created the iPhone.
Even in our darkest hours, we've banded together to protect our own and strive for a better world.
I remember 9-11, when the unthinkable happened. I remember watching everyday Americans put aside their differences to help strangers. A city that is often said to be filled with rude, uncaring people was filled with citizens risking their lives to help one another. Even when fire and police were working to rescue victims trapped in burning buildings, regular citizens were volunteering to help. They had to turn them away for their own safety.
I know the stories that followed the attacks on Pearl Harbor. After the United States was wrongly attacked by the Empire of Japan in an unprovoked act of war, our people banded together to rid the world of a new breed of tyranny. Millions of Americans volunteered, either in the Armed Forces or at home for the war effort. Not because they were forced by the government, but because they knew it was the right thing to do.
But if you look at our current leadership, you'll have a hard time understanding the significance of Pearl Harbor and the entire Second World War. You might even get confused with double talk and empty rhetoric, as showcased by President Obama at his recent visit to the memorial.
During a ceremony recognizing the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Obama said, “It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.” (via Breitbart)
Now let me ask you something, what the hell does that mean? This is at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, where over 2,000 American lives were taken in an unprovoked attack by Japan. It was that spark that drew us into the most deadly war in world history.
And Obama is going on and on about hatred and tribalism? Is it tribalism that led us to fight back and end Hitler's reign of terror? Nope, it was a sense of justice and duty. Is it hatred that motivated us to risk our lives to free millions of Europeans? Nope, it was the right thing to do.
We're we motivated by hate? Did we demonize those who were different? No, that's what our enemies were doing. We were fighting in a terrible war that could have resulted in the fall of freedom and democracy around the world. We knew if we failed, all would be lost.
So what was Obama talking about? It sounded awfully like the same kind of rhetoric he and his liberal buddies have been spouting for a while, political banter that is squarely aimed at President-elect Donald Trump and his plans to end terrorism and illegal immigration.
Why do I say this? Because of the careful choice of words Obama used. Why didn't he say Pearl Harbor is a reminder of the brave men and women who risked their lives to protect us? Or the many today who do the same? Or that it's a reminder that at our darkest, there is always the light of hope?
Presidents tend to say things that honor fallen soldiers and inspire Americans. Yet when the first Japanese Prime Minister visited Pearl Harbor to acknowledge the evil his nation perpetrated against ours, our president waffles about tribalism and hate.
Perhaps that's why Shinzo Abe offered condolences, but refused to apologize for the terrible deaths his nation caused.
“I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place, and also to the souls of the countless innocent people who became the victims of the war,” Abe said during his speech. (via Breitbart)
No apology. No admission of guilt. When you have a leader of weak character, who refuses to stand up for his own people, then other leaders won't do what they should.
America is not built on tribalism. Don't believe anyone who tells you that. America is built on principles of freedom for every citizen, a government by the people and for the people. We are united by common hopes, dreams, and values, not our ethnic background or the color of our skin.
We will always face challenges in this country, but it is our beliefs, the ones that granted us Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Press and more, that will provide us a path through.
There may be some who cling to ideas of tribalism, who want to divide us based on our race or background. But don't let them. We are Americans first.