Something Worth Remembering

It’s Election Day in America, once again…

…And while the “nabobs of negativity” have bombarded us with all kinds of factoids, drama and fear, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of just a few of the things that are great about this country.

Dinesh D’Souza came to the United States from India, and attended Dartmouth College where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He’s a remarkable conservative writer who speaks with intelligence, clarity and respect on political issues of the day. From his book, What’s So Great About America?, here are just a few things we should remember no matter how we vote.

1. America provides an amazingly good life for the ordinary guy.

Rich people live well everywhere. But what distinguishes America is that it provides an incomparably high standard of living for the “common man.” We now live in a country where construction workers regularly pay $4 for a nonfat latte, where maids drive nice cars, and where plumbers take their families on vacation to Europe.

2. America offers more opportunity and social mobility than any other country, including the countries of Europe.

America is the only country that has created a population of “self-made tycoons.” Only in America could Pierre Omidyar, whose parents are Iranian and who grew up in Paris, have started a company like eBay.

3. Work and trade are respectable in America, which is not true elsewhere.

Historically, most cultures have despised the merchant and the laborer, regarding the former as vile and corrupt and the latter as degraded and vulgar. Some cultures, such as that of ancient Greece and medieval Islam, even held that it is better to acquire things through plunder than through trade or contract labor.

4. America has achieved greater social equality than any other society.

True, there are large inequalities of income and wealth in America. In purely economic terms, Europe is more egalitarian. But Americans are socially more equal than any other people, and this is unaffected by economic disparities.

5. People live longer, fuller lives in America.

Although protesters rail against the American version of technological capitalism at trade meetings around the world, in reality the American system has given citizens many more years of life, and the means to live more intensely and actively.

6. In America, the destiny of the young is not given to them but is created by them.

In my 20s I found myself working as a policy analyst in the White House, even though I was not an American citizen. No other country, I am sure, would have permitted a foreigner to work in its inner citadel of government.

7. America has gone further than any other society in establishing equality of rights.

There is nothing distinctively American about slavery or bigotry. Slavery has existed in virtually every culture, and xenophobia, prejudice and discrimination are worldwide phenomena. Western civilization is the only civilization to mount a principled campaign against slavery; no country expended more treasure and blood to get rid of slavery than the United States.

8. America has found a solution to the problem of religious and ethnic conflict that continues to divide and terrorize much of the world.

Visitors to places like New York are amazed to see the way in which Serbs and Croatians, Sikhs and Hindus, Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, Jews and Palestinians all seem to work and live together in harmony. How is this possible when these same groups are spearing each other and burning each other’s homes in so many places in the world?

9. America has the kindest, gentlest foreign policy of any great power in world history.

Critics of the U.S. are likely to react to this truth with sputtering outrage. They will point to longstanding American support for a Latin or Middle Eastern despot or the unjust internment of the Japanese during World War II, or America’s reluctance to impose sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime. However one feels about these particular
cases, let us concede to the critics the point that America is not always in the right.

What the critics leave out is the other side of the ledger. Twice in the 20th century, the United States saved the world: first from the Nazi threat, then from Soviet totalitarianism. What would have been the world’s fate if America had not existed? After destroying Germany and Japan in World War II, the U.S. proceeded to rebuild both countries, and today they are American allies. Now we are doing the same thing with
Afghanistan.

10. America, the freest nation on earth, is also the most virtuous nation on earth.

This point seems counterintuitive, given the amount of conspicuous vulgarity, vice and immorality in America. Indeed, some Islamic fundamentalists argue that their regimes are morally superior to the United States because they seek to foster virtue among the citizens. Virtue, these fundamentalists argue, is a higher principle than liberty.

Indeed it is. And let us admit that in a free society, freedom will frequently be used badly. Freedom, by definition, includes the freedom to do good or evil, to act nobly or basely.

But if freedom brings out the worst in people, it also brings out the best. The millions of Americans who live decent, praiseworthy lives desire our highest admiration because they have opted for the good when the good is not the only available option. Even amidst the temptations of a rich and free society, they have remained on the straight path. Their virtue has special luster because it is freely chosen.

By contrast, the societies that many Islamic fundamentalists seek would eliminate the possibility of virtue. If the supply of virtue is insufficient in a free society like America, it is almost non-existent in an unfree society like Iran.

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