America: Who Are We?

America is a lot of things.  We are a country and people that cannot be reduced to a single definition.  America is something different to each of us.  There is America the ideal and the America each of us experience daily, and everything in between.

When we get philosophical we often reflect on what our Presidents have said about America in their speeches and writings.  Presidents paint broad, lofty portraits of the American spirit and will.  Do we really live up to those high minded concepts?   When comparing the different views of America, who is to say that one person’s reflection is more reasonable than someone else’s?  We experience America through our own circumstance, personal history, education and the openness of our minds.  This is no “one size fits all” definition of what America is suppose to represent to us.

This blog is not about patriotism or loyalty to country, or religious belief, doctrine or a motto.

I saw a video online recently of two young, drunk white women harassing an Hispanic family, taunting and belittling them, and ultimately coming in contact with them, which under the law is assault.  The victims, who unluckily lived across the street from one of the women, were simply going about their business when confronted by the loud, finger-pointing women.  The video, unfortunately, is like more and more stories that are posted online showing racist, threatening and often violent behavior. This behavior is not representative of most Americans but one has to wonder why it seems so prevalent?

America is a land of immigrants, like it or not. The vast majority of us are here because our ancestors crossed a border, or arrived by boat or airplane.  Sadly, immigration is a lightning rod for division in America.  Our country is often thought of as a melting pot, but a rising attitude is for us not to melt or mix, and for many to go “home.”  Taunts are yelled at people who look like they may be foreigners, meaning not of White Anglo appearance.  Many of these “foreigners” are actually American born, but let’s not get into facts.  There is a decidedly “us and them” attitude on immigration matters.

Individual beliefs aside, America is a nation of highest ideals, for being the light in an often dark world.  It would be nice if we would unite as Americans and work to solve some of our many problems.

I went looking for some quotes about America and I stayed away from some obvious choices.  Here are some quotes, a sampling, of what I believe speak to what America is.

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”  – Thomas Jefferson

Ignorance will doom us.  Educate everyone, not just the well-to-do, but everyone.  An educated citizenry will understand our founding principles and use reason to guide their lives, decision-making and hopefully participation in the election process.

“The great object of the institution of civil government is the improvement of those who are parties to the social compact.” – John Quincy Adams

We chose to belong to a society and give up power to government to tax and make other decisions. In return, we expect the government to look after our greater good.  Our government serves us, not the other way round.

‘America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts.” –  James Madison

One benefit of immigration is the hard work, drive and ingenuity of those who arrived here. They gave up their previous lives to participate in the success that our country has to offer for those who sacrifice and pursue it.  We are better as a country from the contributions of immigrants, who fight in our wars, pay taxes and enrich our culture.

“If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.” – John McCain

Freedom of the press is key to protecting our liberty.  Freedom of speech and of those who would use it to criticize and hold accountable those in power is necessary to check the power of those who would abuse and restrict this freedom.  There has always been a friction between government and the press (media).  Tyrants close newspapers, threaten journalists, and use the power of the media for their own purposes.  Look at any dictatorship in history.

“The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches – with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone – was once at the core of the American Dream.” – Robert Reich

The American Dream still lives but many are inherently excluded from realizing their part of the Dream.  Before capitalism was rigged by the wealthy and powerful, with the help of our elected leaders, and the gap between the top 1 percent of Americans and everyone else was not like the Grand Canyon, the American Dream was available to those willing to work and sacrifice for it. Not anymore.

‘Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Our country began with dissent.  We objected to rule by England and set up our own government, and defended it in a war for our right to self-govern.  Others came from totalitarian countries and to escape tyranny. Dissent and protest is in our history.  Dissent is not the same as efforts to overthrow the government and take away our freedoms.  Today, we confuse dissent with being un-American, whatever that is.

“The United States was born in revolution and nurtured by struggle. Throughout our history, the American people have befriended and supported all those who seek independence and a better way of life.” – Robert Kennedy

America is still a country of immigration. We have welcomed those seeking freedom and a better life, or at least we used to.  It is stylish to redefine who is an acceptable immigrant based on skin color, religion or ethnicity. It is popular to claim that immigrants take American jobs, are mostly welfare users, are all criminals and terrorists. Most of them are the Bogeyman. Trust me on that.

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin

America has respected and protected freedom of speech, and of sharing a diversity of ideas and thought.  Ideology and beliefs run the spectrum, including what many of us would consider inflammatory or racist, but which is protected.  Wisdom is a difficult thing to define, but America has always encouraged freedom of thought and the pursuit of academic study, which sometimes challenges our conventional thinking.

“Many people consider the things government does for them to be social progress but they regard the things government does for others as socialism.” – Earl Warren

Government policy has taxed and redistributed wealth, passed laws and constructed programs to benefit workers, the elderly, children, farmers and other groups.  This is seen as socialism by some.  Providing tax breaks and incentives for others is not seen as socialism, or corporate welfare, rather as tax fairness and support of capitalism.

“I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream.” – Bruce Springsteen

Many have experienced the American Dream while others have failed to reach their dreams.  The reality is many will not realize their dreams or reach the stars in their sky. Some of that is tragic, and some is bittersweet. The Boss never forgot his roots.

“America is the spirit of human exploration distilled.” – Elon Musk

America has always offered a spirit of adventure, sacrifice, vision and advancement.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” – Abraham Lincoln

How profound.  We seem to be chipping away at our own freedoms, growing our own terrorists, and undermining our own democratic systems (with help from the Russians and other bad actors).

“No matter the nationality, no matter the religion, no matter the ethnic background, America brings out the best in people.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

True.  People come here for a better life.  They want the freedom and success that we popularize to the rest of the world.  Most people who come here bring their work ethic with them.  They want a better life, less government intrusion, freedom from fear and crime, and a better life for their children. Some believe we get the dregs from the world, but check the universities, the family businesses and the social organizations in our communities. We get more of the folks who helped build this country.

“America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses.” – Woodrow Wilson

America does not have the caste system, you are not born into a predetermined life.  America is about equal, or at least in theory. Children can grow up to be what they can dream and work to become.  There is freedom of movement, you can live anywhere you can afford, and attend school anywhere you can gain acceptance and provide for the tuition.  Separate but equal no longer exists, mostly.

“In the party of Lincoln, there is no room for intolerance and not even a small corner for anti-Semitism or bigotry of any kind. Many people are welcome in our house, but not the bigots.”– Ronald Reagan

There are no good bigots or racists or Nazis.

Many of these quotes speak to why people came to America or want to come here. How we treat the less advantaged, the elderly, the sick, those fleeing persecution and those suffering a setback says a lot about who we are. We act our values and beliefs. It is not the words, but the actions that represent who we are as Americans.

Switching gears. There are a lot of surveys but this is as good as any. A lot of us feel America has always had greatness, but is not perfect.  America is a work in progress and there is still much to do.  There is a lot of goodness in our country, and especially in our people.  Turn off the TV and the radio, unplug from the Internet, and meet your neighbor.  We’re in this together, as Red Green correctly assesses.  America is a boat and if one end sinks, so does the other end.

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