It’s Christmastime, and our thoughts run toward memories of footie pajamas suspended beneath wide eyes, padding excitedly from bedrooms before the sun peeks over the trees; last-minute races to assemble new bikes, wrap presents; and making sure Santa’s milk and cookies were properly consumed before the big day. Many of us rest comfortably in the warm blanket of family, friends, and traditions, while others enjoy a long sigh that the holiday craziness is finally ended for 2015.
Chalk this year up for the books, and welcome 2016—two thousand sixteen!—into our lives. And guess what? America is as great as she’s always been.
There have been many times in our country’s history where public opinion has been more homogenous. When we have been more aligned with each other in mind, if not in results—at least aligned with those we see every day. The advent of technology, especially the Internet, has forced many lanes of the American experience to merge into one stream, and not without the inevitable collisions. But America is still great.
What I’m referring to in this “merging” is dealing with our nation’s history on race, economic status, and national origin. Issues-wise, this translates to all the “micro-aggressions,” trigger-warnings, accusations of privilege, and immigration. These are subjects we don’t discuss at the table for Christmas dinner (or we do so at our own peril).
After the holidays, we will settle in to 2016 and pick a new president—it’s a forced choice because we can’t keep the one we have. I, for one, am singularly glad we can’t, because our current president has not focused on what makes America great for the past seven years, and is likely to more sharply pull our focus to our problems and divisions in the coming year.
Fortunately, America’s greatness does not emanate from the Oval Office. History isn’t as rosy as some would paint it through slogans and billboards. And things don’t change nearly as much as starry-eyed progressives would discuss over a latte poured in an eco-sustainable cup that doesn’t contribute to global warming. In 1831, French thinker and researcher Alexis do Tocqueville traveled to America at the behest of his government to see what makes us so special. What he found is as true today as it was then.
“No sooner do you set foot on American soil than you find yourself in a sort of tumult,” de Tocqueville wrote copiously in his notebooks. “A confused clamor rises on every side, and a thousand voices are heard at once, each expressing some social requirements.” The Frenchman expressed surprise at our dedication to the public square, with Americans forming associations and leading movements at the local and even national level for all kinds of purposes.
“The people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe,” wrote de Tocqueville in 1831, when Andrew Jackson was president. The fervor and tumult of politics nearly 185 years ago is no different than it is today. America was great then, and, for the same reasons, it is now.
Why is this country great? It’s not because of our economic prowess, or our abundant national resources, or our military power. Unlike France, which reeled from an absolute monarchy to a blood-soaked terror, to Napoleon’s empire of conquest before settling down into real democracy, America is great because our politics are limited by our goodness, and our goodness springs from a source that transcends politics, race, religion or national origin.
America is great because we can argue over who will be a better president, vote, and accept the results without resorting to violent overthrow or rebellion. We’ve gone down that awful road once. America is great because we can shop till we drop, go deep into credit card debt to buy Christmas gifts for everyone we love, and still remember the one birth that inspired the celebration.
As we open our gifts, empty our stocking stuffers, stuff ourselves with Christmas cheer, and bathe in the warmth of the holiday spirit, we should remember that America is blessed beyond measure. By accident—or ordination—of our birth, or the choice of our ancestors, or the effort to reach our shores, we are Americans. America is great because Americans are good.
Regardless of your politics or your background, this Christmas, and for 2016, resolve to be good. If not for goodness’ sake, then do it for our country.
(published in the Houston Home Journal 12/24/15)