For all of our Republic’s obvious imperfections (such as a dysfunctional healthcare system, environmental catastrophes looming at every river and lake, an obscene infatuation with violence, to name a few) the United States of America is still the place that everyone from everywhere else is trying to get to.
If you talk with recent immigrants, legal and otherwise, the word you hear repeatedly is “opportunity.” To most recent arrivals from dysfunctional societies, “opportunity” is not fraught with the poetic connotations or symbolic undertones that political philosophers and tendentious pundits squeeze out of the word. To most immigrants, many of whom underwent hardships that would be unimaginable to the coddled residents of America, the USA is less an inspiring symbol than a grand bazaar, where it is possible to earn far more money (and have more things) than back home. Although our nation is acutely class-conscious, prejudiced, and inequitable, it is blissfully free of the rigid caste systems and various oligarchies (royal, religious, tribal, familial) that force ninety percent of residents in ôdeveloping countriesö into indentured servitude for the ten percent who own and control the resources. We still have a middle class, for the moment. And clean water. And an astonishing quantity and variety of food. And more TV channels than anywhere. We are functional.
Let us not forget, then, that frivolous holidays such as Independence Day are occasions for more than setting off explosives. July 4th should be commemorated with a moment of reflection, if not solemnity. It is not being free of the British that we celebrate. What we honor is our ongoing, theatrically flawed, sometimes ridiculous, experiment in democracy.
Those who have not traveled or read widely, those who operate under the mistaken impression that all countries everywhere work like ours (only with, you know, different languages and stuff), lack a perspective-giving frame of reference. There is no place like the United States of America.
There are plenty of places that display bits and pieces of the American Way, plenty of places where some of our more compelling ideas (free markets, free press, universal suffrage) enjoy some level of commitment and devout belief.
But nowhere on this planet do the unattainable ideals of Liberty and Justice for all enjoy a more vigorous pursuit.
In many regards we are a broken nation. (One need only browse the archives of this space for an example or thirty). But like a damaged marriage or an occluded passageway, some things are worth fixing and maintaining.
Happy Birthday, America. We love you.