“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The New Colossus
Happy Birthday America!
238 years old. Quite a respectable age.
You’ve managed to stay intact through a Civil War which nearly ripped you in half.
You fought on behalf of liberty in two World Wars which enveloped you from across the globe, and even in victory, you magnanimously invited the vanquished back into the global community with open arms.
You’ve welcomed, albeit occasionally with gritted teeth, the “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse” of immigrants unwanted in their native lands and assimilated them into a society which has grown to be the richest in the world.
You faced down the threat of nuclear annihilation and the dehumanizing spectre of Communism largely with soft power instead of the destruction that total war brings.
For nearly two and a half centuries, you’ve held true to those most sacrosanct of ideals espoused by your Founding Fathers, “who brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” and in doing so have been a source of hope for freedom loving people everywhere.
This isn’t to say that you’ve been blameless. No institution, no matter how grand its codified ideals can stay blameless forever. The stain of slavery, the dehumanization of those we found on this continent prior to European discovery, and the wars of choice fought over the past 60 years have fallen short of your commitment to those high minded ideals in favor of “realpolitik.”
I should quit saying “you.” This isn’t a professional sports team I’ll never play for, this is America. This is the institution which has from my first breath, blessed me with the freedom, safety and mobility to be whomever I choose to be.
I cannot pick those attributes of America with which I agree a la carte, leaving the less desirable remainders for others to choke down. I cannot look at my neighbor and say, “Oh no, this is YOUR President. I didn’t vote for him.”
Men and women who came before me gave their blood, sweat, tears and lives to vouchsafe my ability to make this MY America, one where each voice, no matter its wealth, social status, or color of skin has an equal part to play in maintaining the greatest engine of human freedom and prosperity that the world has ever seen.
But today, another 4th of July abroad, I find myself tired.
I am tired of trying to explaining away the past 14 years of leadership so comically unenlightened that our political system has devolved into a shouting match incapable of legislating.
I’m tired of trying to explain to the Europeans, Vietnamese and everyone else who doesn’t share my passport cover that the policies of my government do not reflect Americans as individuals.
I’m tired of seeing my government encroaching further and further into the lives of its citizenry, of spying on even our allies, and systematically limiting the rights of the individual.
I’m tired of being called “brainwashed” because I believe in the fundamental American right to bear arms, even as another mass shooting occurs.
I’m tired of seeing my fellow Americans try to pass themselves off as Canadians to attempt to shirk a history that while imperfect, is still as proud or prouder than any nation the world has ever seen.
For all the chest beating talk of “American Exceptionalism” I hear at home, I am tired of being in a room of foreigners and seen as the idiot because I am not “properly embarrassed” of my homeland.
I am an American, and God help me if even for a fleeting moment that I deny that enviable truth.
I stand here today embracing the fact that the problems of the nation which has given me so much are inseparable from my own.
I look to the members of the so called “Greatest Generation,” who sacrificed lives by the millions against a tyrannical force as twisted and corrupt as any seen in the course of human history, for guidance.
They fought with a single mind against an enemy armed with weapons engineered to make the slaughter of innocents magnitudes more efficient than ever before. They had the same right to vote that I do.
They did not shirk from their duty, or try to hide behind their broken political system. They stood and took the mantle of liberty upon their own shoulders and said, “Liberty will prevail, and America will ensure it.”
What happened to that America?
Why is my generation different from that of my grandparents? Has our democratic right to vote been taken away? Has our voice been silenced by statute or dictat? Do we find men with guns at our doors waiting to silence opposition?
No. The answer is much more humiliating.
We’ve merely disengaged. We’ve taken the spoils that our forebears won for us and squandered our inheritance on iPhones and TVs. On houses that would’ve made even the richest in generations past blush with the embarrassment.
We’ve taken “conspicuous consumption,” once a behavior to be avoided at all costs, and made it into a virtue.
We excoriate politicians for the slightest misspoken word, while giving our hours and eyeballs to such enlightened television as “Teen Mom,” “Honey Boo-Boo,” and the brand Kardashian.
We’ve taken capitalism, an engine of growth designed to reward the hardest working and most creative among us, and corrupted it into a rigged game of three card monte through cronyism and financialization.
Americans have inherited a system which requires constant maintenance, and we’ve left it on autopilot. The adverse results were completely predictable.
Our education system, once envied as the best in the world, now languishes along side such countries as Lithuania, the Slovak Republic, and Russian.
Our middle class has been systematically gutted, our rural communities left to wither on the vine both economically and socially, and our political class has partitioned themselves away from the people whom they are elected to represent, happy to bicker from their DC perches rather than associate with the lower classes in anything more meaningful than a photo-op.
The America that we live in and the freedoms we enjoy are not ours by divine right. It is, and will continue to be an ever evolving experiment, the results of which are determined daily by the diligent effort of those citizens who continue to maintain it through their individual efforts.
It is the sacred duty of each of us to ensure that that inheritance is worth receiving.
America I haven’t given up on you. Your struggles have galvanized my belief in that responsibility George Washington entrusted to Americans 227 years ago.
Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair
Generations of great men and women have both raised and maintained that standard, handing it to their sons and daughters in turn. It is the hallowed responsibility of mine to repair it to its former glory.
Happy Birthday America.
We’ve got work to do tomorrow.