Friday, July 24, 2009

What is America to me?

Sorry I couldn't find a more visually interesting clip of this great song, but at least give it a listen - the words are fabulous and so well express how I feel about this land of ours. It's one of my favorite songs of all times.

What is America to me?

Boy, that's a question to which you'll get as many varied responses as the number of people you ask it to, but I think that these days, the American ideal is more fractured than ever.

When I was in college, one project that all American Studies majors had to do was the American Dream project - to ask five people what the American Dream meant to them, and then to take their responses and extrapolate an essay about what the American ideal meant to them. My five interviewees were my father, my grandmother, the American Heritage professor for whom I TA'ed (Brett Latimer) and two of my peers, my good friend Laura and my colleague Mark, a Marine veteran. Granted, all five and myself share some common foundations in terms of religion and politics, so the answers I got weren't as vastly varied as they'd be if you asked any five random people on the street, but I think that at the root of it, America means an opportunity to make your dreams come true and to pursue happiness.

Sadly, that opportunity is being diminished by those who would rather see equality of results enforced, making everyone's share of the pie equal with no effort expended - a recipe for disaster that will burden the backs of the hard workers with the labor of carrying the lazy. That is not America to me, and it's not the America our Founding Fathers set out to build.

Friends, I worry for this great nation of ours. I really, really do. I find that for the most part, my generation doesn't know its history. People don't understand the principles upon which America was founded. They don't study the primary sources, the words of the Founders themselves or the books from which the Founders got their ideas. They don't even go to the secondary sources that examine those ideals and quote from them directly. No, most people rely on what they read in high school or college general ed textbooks, information that is often a tertiary source at best. These great, ennobling ideas are watered down to summaries and synopses that lose so much of the heart and soul of this nation in translation. So many nowadays focus only on the rights of citizenship - not the responsibilities that accompany it like honesty, self-sufficiency, integrity and devotion to family.

It frustrates me so much to see our nation headed toward a trainwreck while so many people kick back and focus only on seeking entertainment and luxury. That's precisely the European attitude from which our Founders sought to break away in order to preserve the American character of a people who were "industrious, frugal, and honest," as Thomas Paine said in his great treatise Common Sense. In our land was a spirit of equality and public virtue because "the people of America are a people of property; almost every man is a freeholder," he wrote. Being part of the land somehow made people grounded, working hard for their sustenance. Today we're so far removed from that (myself included - I mean, I'm from L.A. Food comes from the grocery store, not the ground!). However, I think the Spirit of America can prevail even in our modern age.

But what will it take to survive and thrive in these trying times? It will take men and women like you and me, devoted in a return to the heart and soul of this nation, to put a stake in the ground and to make an effort to educate those around us as to what this country is really about, to study and to grow, to pick up the phone and be an engaged citizenry, willing to call our representatives and tell them if we disagree with a particular policy - not to sit around whining about what a terrible idea it is or, worse yet, to sit around ignorant of what's going on in Washington. Our nation is on a rapid track to change with a president at its helm who fundamentally believes in equality of results, not of opportunity, and whose platforms run diametrically opposed to what our Founders set up America to be.

After all, it isn't like the Founders were ignorant of how some things sounded great on paper - but didn't work in reality. As Samuel Adams wrote,

The Utopian schemes of leveling (redistribution of wealth) and a community of goods (gov't ownership of commerce) are as visionary and impratical as those which vest all property in the Crown. [These ideals] are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional.

Or we can turn to Jefferson, who wrote:

If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy.

Furthermore, Jefferson warned:
We shall all consider ourselves unauthorized to saddle posterity with our debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves; and consequently within what may be deemed the period of a generation, or the life of the majority.

Please, friends, do what you can within your sphere to make a difference. Preserve this great nation of ours. Don't let it fail in the face of ignorance, laziness and self-centered pleasure-seeking. Follow yet another admonition of Jefferson's:

If a nation expects to ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness... Preach... a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [of misgovernment].

If we don't stand up for the ideals of freedom and prosperity, we'll be enslaved by our very own government through taxation and limited liberty. That is not America to me.

As an extension of that project I did in college seven years ago, I'd like to ask all of you:

What is America to you? How would you define your version of the American Dream?


Euripides said...

As a teacher, I find that students, besides not knowing much history, only know the kind of history that leftists have been spewing for decades. For example, students will always agree that blacks have been mistreated in the US. However, they will argue that it is because the US in inherently evil. They have no concept that it is, in fact, the US system that allowed us to recognize the inequality and to promote a better way.

Such a shame, really.

cura te ipsum said...

I had Brett Latimer too, a great professor!
Anyway, thanks for this post. My American Dream is getting to live with my family in a free country, where anyone can achieve through hard work, endowed with the potential to be happy and successful.