This weekend, we Americans are celebrating our 240th year of existence. Most of us will enjoy barbecues and fireworks, while others, undoubtedly, will lob cherry bombs of criticism. We have our share of sins and shortcomings, that’s for sure. America has always had its transgressions — and always will. But, during this Independence Day weekend, can we pause for just a moment and give a fist pump for what’s right about America? Here’s my Top Five list:
OUR CAN-DO SPIRIT
Americans don’t see dead-ends; they see doorways to opportunity. We are inventors and innovators. From the airplane to Apollo 11, the cotton gin to personal computers, we have created some of the most thrilling technological marvels of all time. Oh, and it was Americans who invented mass-produced toilet paper. You’re welcome, world.
MAY THE BEST IDEA WIN!
We Americans are an argumentative lot. At the drop of a hat, we will debate politics, religion, sports — you name it. America is a boxing ring of ideas. We allow freedom of speech and press so that all ideas can duke it out in the public arena. Not all are accepted, and some, like the notion of civil rights, have sadly been met with violence. Still, if a cause is just and right, it eventually wins in the court of American public opinion. President Thomas Jefferson stated that it is safe to tolerate “error of opinion … where reason is left free to combat it.”
WE ARE GIVERS
According to the World Giving Index, we ranked #2 in global generosity in 2015, behind Myanmar. In the previous two years, we were #1.
Americans are a generous people. We give to disaster relief, health research, arts and culture, education, animal welfare, the environment and many other noble causes. Some of our top charities include The Salvation Army, Feeding America, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, the American Cancer Society and Goodwill Industries. Despite the fact that religion is taking hard knocks nowadays, a foundation discovered that Americans donated a record-breaking amount of funds to churches and religious groups in 2014.
PARKS AND RECREATION
No, not the TV show — I’m talking about our National Park Service, created in 1916 to “promote and regulate the use of the…national parks…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild.” The United States boasts 58 national parks with a variety of breathtaking features, including geysers, caves, petrified forests, towering redwoods, everglades, sand dunes and hot springs. At many of our parks, you can hike, camp, climb, swim, snorkel and fish. A 2009 documentary film by Ken Burns calls the National Parks “our best idea.”
We Americans didn’t invent the concept of freedom, but we sure do cherish and defend it. It has been in our DNA ever since a ragtag group of colonial rebels took on an unjust empire and won. The Bill of Rights, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, gives our citizens rights unparalleled in the history of humanity.
Imagine if we couldn’t worship in a church, temple or synagogue this weekend — or if we were dragged before a religious tribunal for not worshipping. The First Amendment forbids the federal establishment of any particular religion and cannot impede your right to worship.
Thanks again to the First Amendment, you can peacefully wield a protest sign or publicly gripe about an injustice without without fear of a death squad coming after you.
The Second Amendment is controversial in that some believe ordinary citizens should be able to keep and bear all kinds of arms, while others think certain weapons should be restricted — such as so-called “assault rifles.” The beauty is, both sides are debating on the merit of ideas, not brute force (see “May the Best Idea Win,” above). Our amendments can’t be brushed aside by the whim of one politician, either. They can be repealed and replaced only through a complex legislative process involving Congress and state governors.
The authorities do not have the right to conduct unreasonable search and seizure, indict you without a grand jury or accuse you without a trial of your peers. A tip of the hat to Amendments Four through Six for these rights.
Want to take a road trip from, say, Texas to Pennsylvania? Go for it! There are no check points and you have a fine system of interstate roads over which to travel, thanks to the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Terrorism has come to our shores, but most of us will go to the movies, ballpark or an outdoor concert without giving it a second thought, knowing that strong police, emergency and military forces have our back. Want to find a job? You might have to start at the bottom, but with enough drive, you can climb the ladder and become successful.
Not only do Americans love freedom, we want oppressed peoples all over the globe to experience this kind of liberty. We see freedom as a commodity to promote, not hoard.
America is working on its challenges. As soon as we solve some, others will pop up. That’s just the way it is. In the meantime, grab a hotdog, “ooh” and “ah” as skyrockets explode, and give thanks for all that’s good about our country.