Once in a great while a writer will come along who makes you say, “That’s what I believe” or “Yes, that’s how I feel”.
That’s what happened to me when I read Tom Peter’s In Search of Excellence. Here was someone who had written down what I’d felt and thought and tried to practice in the business world. He codified it for me, gave me assurance that I wasn’t the crazy one swimming against the tide of popular business practices.
Last night I finished reading Mark Steyn’s America Alone and went, “Wow! I’m not a nut case (although I’m certain some will dispute that point).” That I’ve always personally felt America was an exceptional place is less important that the absolute fact that it is.
Since Thomas Paine penned Common Sense and Thomas Jefferson gave us a basic manifesto in the Declaration of Independence…and, of course, the incredibly enduring Constitution…the concepts and ideals born in America have led to freedom for more people around the world than any other documents from any other nation in all of history.
Even those who still live under the yoke of tyranny and oppression can look to America and have hope that one day they will be free, that they will enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
If…if we stay true to the concepts and the ideals that made us great in the first place.
From our very beginnings as a country there were so many words that described us and our nation: rugged individualist, capitalist, arrogant, manifest destiny, pompous, religious, ugly (American), charitable, war-like. The list goes on and on. And, oh yes, free!
The French can look down their noses at us and think we’re barbarians or whatever. But, without the American Revolution there is, perhaps, no French Revolution. Vive le Roi. Without the brassy, pushy, obnoxious Americans there’s a strong possibility they’d be speaking German today in Paris.
It is the characteristics ascribed to we Americans — good and bad — that built this nation into the most admired and the one that engenders the most animosity around the globe. Thanks to the former group, tough to the latter.
For almost 200 years we virtually did it all. We pushed back the frontiers, built great cities and connected them with steel rails. We gave birth to the first significant middle-class and raised the standard of living for the average person higher than anyone, anywhere, had ever dreamed possible. Our farmers grew abundant crops that could feed not only our own people but millions elsewhere. Our inventors and industrialists brought us the light bulb and the telegraph, radio and television, mass produced cars, put a man on the moon and returned him safely to Earth, personal computers and — thanks to Al Gore — the internet.
I’d barely reached my teens when we didn’t win our first war. Politicians overrode soldiers and Korea was a costly stalemate. It, of course, was followed by Vietnam and then the first Gulf War. Americans — brash, vulgar, noisy — don’t like not winning. It goes against our national character. And things began to change.
Were there missteps and failures along the way. Absolutely. It’s the price for moving forward. Should we have treated native Americans the way we did, endured slavery and Jim Crow laws as long as we did, detained citizens of Japanese heritage during World War II? Of course not!
Had we been a different people with a different set of values and principles the American Empire would have put the British version to shame. The Philippines, Japan, Italy, Germany are free and independent nations because of American values, because we eschew empire.
Today, we are a nation in disarray. Our public discourse whether in the halls of Congress, emanating from the White House, on television or, hell, just on the streets of towns and cities lacks all sense of civility. We don’t speak to each other, we try to shout each other down. We don’t listen to each other because we are right and they are wrong.
What caused this situation? I’m inclined to blame a considerable amount of it on “political correctness”. When or why it started, I haven’t a clue. But, I do know it’s a terrible thing.
For hundreds of years we’ve had wave after wave of immigrants coming to our shores…”give me your tired, your poor, your hungry”. Most started at the bottom rung of the American ladder and worked their way up. First generation, English was a second language. Next generation it was native. Third generations went off to college. Irish immigrants replaced by Italian immigrants replaced by Ukrainians (my grandparents), replaced by…
I remember by paternal grandmother practicing her English and being tested by her eldest daughter in civics as she prepared to take the test to become an American citizen. There were two generations of native born in the family and still the fire burned in her to become a citizen. Today you can become a citizen and vote without speaking the language of the country…which is, and ought to legally be, English.
Today schools spend millions of dollars to be bi- or multi-lingual. We retard the assimilation process and weaken the melting-pot nation we once were. Some will, in a moment, accuse me of Hispaniphobia or Islamiphobia; so be it. When the millions of Irish or Italians or Slavs, or Germans arrived at our shores, did the major stores add another language to their signage?
When these immigrants arrived did they just land on the docks and scatter? No, they went through Ellis Island and other ports of entry, had their papers checked, went through medical exams. It wasn’t easy. I know because I have a whole wing of my mother’s family in Argentina due to a case of pink eye.
Today, people can arrive from anywhere in the world with visitors’ visas and student visas and whatever kind of visas they issue and then just stay. Friend or foe, admirer of America or intent on destroying America, it makes no difference.
Today we have more hyphenated Americans than ever, people who identify as much with where they came from as where they chose to be. Makes no sense.
A nation — including America — is defined by a whole host of criteria. Its form of government (even today we have the best), its character and the vitality of its people and, oh yes, its has a physical border. El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, can each have the same number of Hispanic people but one is an American city and the other is not.
Want to see what is coming? Want to know what political correctness can lead to? Look to Europe, they’re way ahead of us on this path. In England they can’t fly the national flag, the Union Jack, over their own prisons because Muslim prisoners object to being incarcerated under a flag that has the George Cross on it. In Belgium (or was it Denmark), a fairly innocuous cartoon depicting Mohammed leads to rioting and killings so the government bans such cartoons in order not to upset a group of citizens.
It is happening here; we’re just a little bit more rugged individualist, bellicose, religious and gun-toting. But, in the name of political correctness (and a thirst for oil), we give tax breaks to Saudi Arabian financed schools that teach Wahhabism — the most radical form of Islam. In the name of freedom of religion (a bedrock of our freedoms) we allow clerics in mosques throughout the country to recruit jihadists who would blow up our buildings and kill our citizens.
If you believe in the America that Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Mason, Hamilton and Paine created and entrusted to us, if you believe in the America that Reagan described as a shining city on a hill, if you believe in the America that freed Europe from the Nazis and kept the Soviet Union at bay for 40 years, if you believe in the America where you have the opportunity to rise to the highest levels if you’ll study hard enough and work hard enough, if you believe in the America where you can fail and get up and fail again and get up…
Then in the words of John McCain, “Stand up, Stand up, Stand up for America”. And if you don’t believe in that America, then listen to the words of the President of the United States, Barak Obama, “Shut up…and get out of the way.”