“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird.”
“It’s a plane.”
“Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands. And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.”
As an eight-year-old boy growing up in Southern California you have to know that I faithfully watched Superman every afternoon. That opening not only said a lot about the lead character but the character of our country.
While we couldn’t “leap tall buildings,” we overcame some pretty tall issues: a Civil War, Civil Rights and Vietnam War, to name a few.
With the help of some extraordinary federal work projects, we did “change the course of mighty rivers” with monumental dams and an impressive Interstate Highway System.
Maybe we couldn’t bend steel, but we created U.S. Steel that was the leading producer in its time, still in business today.
And when our backs were against the wall, the greatest generation of Americans fought alongside allies, including Russia, to rid the world of a totalitarian regime where people believed whatever was shouted out of the mouth of a lying autocrat with promises of greatness.
That was a time when people weren’t Irish, Catholic, Jew, Black, White or Brown; they were just Americans.
Were we perfect? Of course not.
Dred Scott, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Korematsu, McCarthyism.
However, despite the injustices we created, we held ourselves accountable, learned and changed. We passed laws and became better.
For every Plessy v. Ferguson, we had the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
We went from Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin; Abigail Adams to Oprah Winfrey.
Do we have far to go? You bet. But it begins and ends with how we treat each other.
It begins when we’re willing to listen more than we speak.
Let’s not insist on respect, let’s practice it.
Let’s not beat our chests about our rights; let’s act responsibly.
When we are wrong, let’s apologize. When we are right, let’s demonstrate the quiet self-assurance of having done the right thing.
Let’s exercise compassion, not as a political buzzword, but as the American ideal it has become.
Thanks to the First Amendment, a vital press, and a world class system of justice, we continue to fight “a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.”
And when we lose our way, let’s remember what those words stand for.
They stand for facts over falsehoods, science over superstition, confidence over cynicism, the ideal of equal justice under the law, doing one’s best, respecting the beliefs and dignity of others, moral as well as physical courage, responsibility, accountability, self-restraint, perseverance and always, always continuous improvement.
We’re not a perfect country, and sometimes for every step forward, we seem to take ten back. But, no other country on the planet has demonstrated a greater capacity in leading others through difficult challenges, new lessons and constructive human advances, than ours.
That’s the American way.