24 July 2010

In Defense Of American Values

In my last post, I identified myself as a practical progressive. I think I may have to push the boundaries of excessive alliteration and change that to practical progressive patriot: I love America. Not in a weird or even exceptionalist kind of way, don't get me wrong; a combination of opportunity, will, determination, ingenuity and ruthlessness built this country, not manifest destiny. But I still can't help but feel lucky and proud to be an American. (Don't worry, I'm not pulling a Sherrod knee-jerk here to placate my conservative readers, if you even exist. I really am probably one of the more flag-waving liberals on the East Coast. Guess that's what happens when you grow up in Boston listening to bedtime stories about James K. Polk and Kit Carson. Thanks Dad.)

To get this out of the way, I am more than aware America has blood on its hands. No need to go through the list right now. We are currently paying for our country's moral failings and will continue to do so. But in a world where we are reminded all too often of mankind's capacity for intolerance, America was created as and remains today a symbol of all that is good about human nature. Our founding fathers didn't have to form a democratic republic, the freest nation the world had ever seen. They could have kept alive the traditions of monarchy, theocracy, autocracy, all of which were big hits at the time. But they chose to build a country that would include the people in government and protect the rights of those commonly stepped on when the sole driving force was their own conviction. Hard to argue that this wasn't one of the more unique and formative acts in all of human history.

America isn't perfect, but it's this imperfection that makes us great: We are a truer reflection of human nature than any nation that has existed on earth. For the most part, humans are greedy and self-interested, easily brought to arms but not inherently violent, short-sighted and proud but also compassionate and admittedly in need of moral direction. America is all these things and more, for better or worse; its flaws are humanity's flaws. While we have a lot of things right, we still have a long way to go. America is a foggy but true compass guiding those living in an imperfect world towards the destination progress will eventually, hopefully, lead us to.

Basically, America is as close to perfect as we're gonna get right now. We're a country built on slavery, yet we tore our fledgling union apart in the name of progress to end it and came out stronger because of it. We are the most powerful country the world has ever seen, yet we actively promote peace and self-determination, even if largely in speech and in the interests of our bottom line. After WWII we could have been much more aggressive and literally taken over half the world, but we didn't even consider it. We chose to try and build the world into a safer one of cooperation and democracy, even if we went about it like a bull in a china shop. We still have our issues, some that have been around since America's birth and aren't going away anytime soon. But at the end of the day, despite our differences, we all agree on one thing: people should be free. It's an idea that America has championed for 234 years, and one we need to stop taking for granted.