A nation that abandons people who risked their lives to provide service to us, in a hostile land, is not an ideal nation.

A nation that deports immigrants to a country in which they have not lived for decades, a country that is basically foreign to them, is not an ideal nation. A nation that cannot rally the majority of its citizens around the idea of simply stopping the spread of a disease is not an ideal nation. A nation that gives out booster vaccine shots to its own populace before vaccinating the rest of the world is not an ideal nation. A nation that fails to defend a flawed democracy (all democracies are always flawed, including our own) from a brutal tyrant next door is not an ideal nation.

America may not be ideal, but it is great.

All of these and more disappointing, myopic, self-centered decisions have come to define this country in recent years, under multiple administrations and different parties. That is a tragedy and a waste, but it would be even worse to presume that America is not a great nation because of these failures. Despite what you might hear from some shrill voices on the right and the left, American exceptionalism is still alive as a concept. The question is whether recent American leadership has abandoned the notion of, well, American leadership.

The real idea of American greatness is that the United States of America is more than just a place on a map. We are neither the first nor the last country to hew to this idea, but that doesn’t mean we should simply abandon it. Ours is a different sort of greatness. When most countries refer to themselves as great, they mean that they have a superior history, or culture, or religion to everyone else. When the United States uses the term, we refer to the strength of our ideas – that’s what led us to achieve superpower status in the first place. It’s also what allows us (for now) to legitimately claim the status of the world’s sole superpower.

This concept infuriates those who would rather define the United States by other characteristics. Those who wish to define the United States as a white country, or a Christian country, or a European country aren’t enhancing it, they’re belittling it. They’re ignoring the bulk of our history, during which we’ve stretched beyond the boundaries of our origin to do different things. Note: Different things, not always better things.

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Yes, we were the first country to land a man on the moon and we invented the personal computer, but we also banned slavery later than our former colonial occupier, Great Britain. After the Civil War, we abandoned Reconstruction too quickly, allowing much of the white supremacist mindset and culture that existed in the antebellum South to reestablish itself, only being overthrown by the civil rights movement a century later. That process has yet to be finalized in our country, even today. Our nation still suffers from the scars of slavery, and all Americans suffer, regardless of whether we’re Black or white. Civil rights, like economic prosperity, is not a zero-sum game. Nobody has to gain at anybody else’s expense.

If only we had a leader – from either party – who truly embraced this idea. Unfortunately they’re few and far between these days. Instead, both parties predicate their political strategy on sewing divisiveness and fear, further splitting our society. The last time this country was truly united in the face of a common enemy, rather than quibbling over minor differences, was 21 years ago today, when jetliners rammed into two buildings in New York City, the Pentagon and into an empty field in rural Pennsylvania.

The passengers of Flight 93 weren’t fighting for any particular political party or candidate when they decided to take on the box cutter-wielding terrorists hijacking their plane. They didn’t stop to check their fellow passengers’ party registration, or ask the hijackers’ opinions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They put the good of the country above their own lives because they knew what was at stake. It would be incredible if we could recapture that spirit of unity again, even if the stakes don’t seem as high – maybe, just maybe, they are.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel


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