It seems that on the Left these days, America is taking quite a pounding. Our collective Sins of the Past are being dragged out into the open, and held up as examples of what is (still) wrong with the country – and we can never seem to atone for them to their satisfaction. Institutionalized oppression of (insert minority group here). Economic inequality resulting in an entrenched, oligarchic government. Interference with the governments of other nations and peoples. Unchecked militarism. Environmental degradation. There are even serious essays being published that claim we’d be better off if we had never won our independence.
Given the barely concealed contempt for this country, one has to wonder why they aren’t leaving for greener (to them) pastures.
I am led to wonder – is there anything about the United States of America and its system of government that is worth celebrating?
Huge Caveat Alert:
A good deal of what I’m going to propose probably doesn’t hold true for the entire history of the US – or for all parts of it. We’re dealing with broad generalities; one can always find exceptions if one digs hard and deep enough. I’m going to say a good cutoff will be the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Prior to that, it can be well argued that we were still a collection of states rather than a single country. People’s primary loyalties were to their state, not the US as a whole. Note, as an example, how the military units of the Civil War were more often named for the states of their origin (52nd Massachusetts, 4th Tennessee, etc.) rather than a more generic Union or Confederate. It wasn’t until after the war ended and everything settled out that we started thinking and acting like one single nation.
For over a century, we haven’t used war or military conquest to take territory. The last time we grabbed any land as spoils of war was the Spanish-American War – and almost all of it has been given up or granted independence. The only significant amount of land we still have is Puerto Rico, which could easily get its independence if and when they get around to asking for it. We asked for no land after either World War; just the right to set up military bases. We’ve intervened on behalf of peace and order, but we’ve never gone in as conquerors.
Religious freedom is enshrined in both law and custom. The government neither prescribes nor proscribes any particular faith or belief. Plenty of other countries have official religions (in one form or another) – we don’t. The most we’ve got is a couple of words on our money, and a sort of bland reverence towards a generic deity. As a result, we’ve not been involved in any religious wars or persecution. Yes, I know, there’s been discrimination and there are places where Evangelical Protestantism pretty much rules – but not as an official national policy, OK?
There’s no official state-run media. Even FOX News isn’t the actual official mouthpiece of the government to the exclusion of all other sources. A free press is one of the pillars of our society. One is always free to openly criticize the government. Nor can the government suppress information about its activities without a really darn good reason.
We’ve always had a peaceful transfer of power. Elections have always been held on schedule (we even had a presidential election during the Civil War!), and while there has been all manner of chicanery in the voting process, no one has ever had to have been forcibly removed from office. Losers concede, and step aside.
But what about the actual system of government? The day-to-day running of things, as it were. What’s to praise about that? We’re a huge, multi-ethnic country, and we don’t have ethnic minorities clamoring for separation. There’s no equivalent to the Tamils, Catalans, Basques, or Kurds, for example. I’d say that’s due to our Constitutional Federated Democratic Republic* system of government. Rather than a centralized government trying to impose unity on a vast and diverse mass of people, we are broken up into fifty small countries. Well, the states aren’t quite countries or dominions, but they are more than just administrative districts. And they each have their own characteristics in more than just geography. Florida is quite different from Oregon in more ways than one. This arrangement allows for each state to find its own solutions to its own problems, and helps allow minority populations have an active role in their own regional polis – where they might not be that much of a minority.
Yes, we’re not perfect. I understand the complaints. But we know where our failures are, and if we don’t always live up to our ideals, at least we have ideals.
So if you can’t bring yourself to celebrate the US of A, I get it. But can you at a minimum try to celebrate the ideals we represent?
* Someday I’ll have to write an essay about what I mean by that.