Over the past decade, I have come to realize that many people do not know what America is; what makes America unique as a nation, and what it stands for. This is troublesome to say the least. So here is a brief primer for those who are interested.
First, a few things that America is NOT:
Is America a geographical area, political borders, or a particular mapping of territory? No. This country has changed shape many times in its history, yet still remains a nation.
Is America a people? No. Those who created this country have long since passed. Since then we have seen waves of immigration in the millions. So we America is not about any group or subset of people.
Is America a land of Laws? No. We have laws that are very similar to many other countries, so many are not unique to us. Our laws have also changed drastically over the past two hundred years. So we may be governed by laws, the country is not defined by them.
Is America about shared values? No. (but it tried to be!) This nation started off with plurality as a central paradigm. Our forefathers enshrined a very well crafted set of values in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and these values are what made America great. Still, these values have slowly evolved over time as new values came into the fold.
Is America about an ideology, religion or philosophical orientation? No, no, and no. America is no more a Christian nation than it is a Muslim nation. Our founding fathers expressed atheistic and agnostic views, and they very strongly cautioned future generations regarding the separation of church and state. So we are not defined by any particular religion.
Is America about military strength, technology, entrepreneurship, trade, diversity, the English language, or any one of the thousands of other facets that might accurately describe us? NO! These characteristics are features , but they certainly do not DEFINE us.
So what IS America?
America is a Constitutional Federal Republic. So it is our Constitution that defines us above all else. And those shared values mentioned above? We used to hold many common values sacred. Ask any immigrant who arrived here prior to the 1990’s and they will tell you the same thing – all had to assimilate and adopt the core values upon which this country was founded. Every wave of immigrants faced opportunities and challenges; from the Chinese to the Italians, from Germans to the various Hispanic peoples, each group faced discrimination, poverty, and difficulty. But all assimilated, and each group thrived in the long run.
But they came here because of our Constitution and our values. The values shared by these early immigrants included individual liberty, personal responsibility, accountability, industriousness, merit, justice, fairness, and equal rights, to name several.
Our founding fathers certainly could not solve every problem facing the country in the late 1700’s. To expect such a thing would be incredibly naïve. They did not address a few very obvious problems, such as slavery, religion, women’s rights, and colonialism to name just a few. Sadly, we have yet to adequately resolve these issues in the intervening 200+ years aided by incredible leaps in technology and prosperity.
They did, however, leave us a nearly perfect country, along with structures and a blueprint of sorts for its improvement.
And we were handed this country with the hardest work already done!
So as you spend time alone or with your loved ones this week, I hope you will reflect on how far astray we have drifted from the ideals gifted to us by our founding fathers. And despite our differences and challenges, I hope you will find cause to celebrate and to be mindful of our mutual blessings.
It is in our hands now, and I hope we will do what’s right in the coming years; to strive for a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our children.