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Op-eds

I’m Defending an Unpopular Idea — America is Good

I want to defend a radical idea. An idea that is increasingly unpopular—mocked and sneered at by some: The United States of America is good.

In fact, this country has been the greatest force for good the world has ever seen. We have sacrificed blood and treasure to free hundreds of millions of people from oppression worldwide. Free markets and liberal democracy have normalized a standard of living unmatched in human history. Our defense of individual freedom has allowed genius to flourish and enabled generosity to the needy at home and abroad.

Three important things make this possible:

1.   The Declaration of Independence is the world’s definitive statement on human rights;

2.   The U.S. Constitution is the greatest document of self-governance ever written; and

3.   The Bill of Rights is the strongest guarantor of liberty in the history of mankind.

I do not praise our founding documents out of a sense of arrogance, but of gratitude. Americans have lofty ideals to live up to—ideals that drive achievements and course corrections that make the United States a force for good.

Why, then, are so many of my fellow Americans taking to the streets and the internet to express their hatred for our country and culture?

A growing number of people believe that America’s foundations are rotten to the core. While reflection and a dose of humility are healthy, we all must resist any calls to division and disdain. Choosing an ideological group over our country is tribalism. It's alarming that it seems to be in vogue to condemn the U.S. as a hateful place founded on deep moral sin and oppression. Those calling for a complete systemic teardown fundamentally misunderstand, or intentionally ignore, what makes America worth fighting for.

The current popular condemnations are neo-Marxist in that they portray societal and individual struggles through a tribal dichotomy of winners and victims. Neo-Marxism disenfranchises people by telling them they have no power to improve their lives. Even important discussions on race have devolved into neo-Marxist diatribes about unequal outcomes rather than equality under the law. It would be more helpful to empower individuals by ensuring the Bill of Rights is applied fairly than to focus on past sins.

Our goodness grows or is diminished in direct proportion to our commitment to our founding principles of liberty, justice, and equality. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, keep those ideas constantly in front of us as our guiding star.

I am not blind to the fact that a review of American history provides examples of moral failings. We have not always been led by perfect people. Some of them were not even good people—selfish, arrogant, or power-hungry. Slavery is a stain upon our nation. We have not always implemented laws, divided responsibilities, guaranteed religious freedom, or instituted foreign policy fairly.

But, any fair reading of our history also reveals that things are getting better. By nearly every measure; racism, care for our environment, standard of living, protection of the middle class, human rights, education, and many more, we are improving. I hope that future generations will build on our progress and be better than we are now. That is the great American promise.

Our Founding Fathers knew that imperfect people need noble principles to counter the human tendency toward abuse of power. We should be grateful that they recognized their failings and designed a system of checks and balances.

Many nations are unified primarily by ethnic identity and tradition. We are something different. Americans’ common bond is our commitment to our founding principles, our striving to uphold inalienable human rights, and progress toward a more perfect union. American patriotism is our love of and commitment to the process. We rally to liberty, justice, and equality. We salute the flag—never a king, party, or faction. American patriotism is the very antithesis of tribalism and if we want to remain special, we must root out any tribal tendencies. 

The U.S. is, and always has been, a symbol of opportunity. Opportunity is directly linked to capitalism. Without our economic system, the U.S. would not be a land of opportunity. Capitalism does result in unequal outcomes, but it has proven better than any other economic system at raising living standards for all.

If our common commitment to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution wanes—if we abandon our pursuit of opportunities for individuals or we divide into warring factions, we will cease to be exceptional. 

All of us, therefore, must choose: do we swear allegiance to a nation that is flawed but getting better? Or do we give in to tribalism, even while knowing that division and oppression have always left people destitute and disappointed.

I choose to defend the goodness of America.

 

 

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