American Exceptionalism

Don't Let The "Idea" Of America Die

We are a burly, larger-than-life, muscle-bound country. America is populated with the off-spring of adventurers and the fearless people who took a leap of faith into the chasm of uncertainty — to come here to build a new life. These were not ordinary people, content to live under the thumbs of European nobility, but people who, somehow, knew that liberty, equality and economic success could be theirs — if they had the will. Those relentlessly action-oriented people, from all walks of life, left their peasantry behind and planted firm feet on our soil. This had never happened before in the history of the world.

A true story: In the late 1800s an English Lord was travelling in the west. He came to a dirty ranch hand mending a fence and inquired as to the “Whereabouts of your master’s house?” The hand paused, looking up and said, “That man hasn’t been born yet.”Which, quite simply, epitomizes the concept of America. With their own wits and muscle, our ancestors made their way here, succeeded, failed, died, lived, raised families and fought for what they believed in. And did not believe in royalty — or in servitude.

How then, have we, who have the blood of these hardened survivors coursing through our veins, gotten so whiny and finger-pointy? What happened to the stoic fellows who simply took it on the chin, did what was right and kept their complaining to a minimum? Where are the prairie farmer’s wives who buried their own children “out back,” and the lone soldiers who fought against sure death in the deserts of Arizona?

Why do we celebrate the mediocre? The whiners? The people who complain the loudest? Why do we pay attention to those who mock us from the very countries our ancestors fled from? Here we stand, the richest, most powerful country in the history of the world — and yet, we doubt ourselves and feel guilty about our successes. We pay a price to be where we are, and that price is the spotlight. People will shout, throw rocks, shoot guns at us and want what we have because they didn’t have the wherewithal to manage it themselves. It’s okay to be right. It’s okay to be strong. It’s okay to be decisive and, it’s okay to say, “That’s wrong. Stop it. Now.” In short, it’s okay to be American. Yet we are becoming a nation of “middleroaders,” of hesitation in the face of decision- making — a nation of fearful people who hide in their SUVs and wait for someone else to “do something” about it.

It gets worse. What’s with the spate of TV shows and movies in which the “hero” almost invariably ends-up being somehow “dirty” (on the take, murderer — or worse) continues. Why is it bad to be good? How has our definition of “hero” gotten so muddled? Is a basketball star who cheats on his wife, a President who lies, a Senator who steals or a pop star who rants, worthy of attention — other than as a focus of our own solid indignation? Why can’t there be a good guy who is truly good — and a bad guy who is, just as clearly, bad? Why must there always be some middle ground, some compromise? “Oh, he’s a sort of good guy, but not always.”Why are we, as a nation, suddenly so uneasy with the concept of “this is clearly right and this is clearly wrong?” Why are we so often hesitant to stand up and simply say, “That, right there, is wrong, and we won’t stand for it” — and then back our play.

Which got me to thinking about America in general. Has Darwin’s theory of natural selection been in effect, and are the “good” guys actually becoming slowly extinct? Is the blood-line of that core-group of genetically-tough adventurers who took their lives into their own hands in the early years of this great country becoming — diluted? Simply “coming to America” these days does not make you an American. Now, a plane ticket and a bit of paperwork can get you to here. Then what? And, just as importantly, just because you are born here, unless you participate in what it is to be an American, unless you seize opportunity and become a part of our national culture, what is America dies a little bit.

While the concept of the “melting pot” was popular, and the “celebrate diversity” trend a catchy phrase — I think the reality is somewhere in-between. A melting pot denotes a monochromatic sea of same ideas, while the concept of “separate but together” that diversity denotes — seems to be simply a jumbled mess of differing ideas. Neither concept is what makes America what it is. Indeed, how much diversity can we stand and still maintain our cohesiveness as a nation?

If, to be an American, is to do what comes most naturally to the kind of person initially attracted to this great country— then are we still trying? That sense of savvy Yankee independence, combined with a ready-willingness to embrace the concept of the need to do things for the common good is, perhaps, the backbone of what is America.

And, just perhaps, it’s this vibrant, exciting arena of commonality of direction that makes up this concept — this mixing of spirit, history, personality and attention to a common good — that gives life to America. It’s her people and how they think, both independently and collectively, that’s what is important. It’s what has brought us here and, if it dies, will take us
with it. We need to stand firm in our heritage, in what made this astounding experiment called America a success, and to not lose sight of where we came from.

It’s okay to be right, its okay to be strong and it’s okay to be united for a common good. Stop whining, stop celebrating the mundane, the offensive, the thieves, liars and crooks. Don’t let other, real heroes carry the burden for the rest of us. For if we do, they relieve us from having to be quite so heroic ourselves — and that too, is yet another step down that slippery road to nothingness. And what a tragedy it would be if this noble experiment we are a part of — should ultimately fail.

And, frankly, I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks about it all. It’s what we think about it that’s important.

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