July 20, 2014

The American Idea

"Anyways, it's not a right-left issue, it's a right-wrong issue.
And America's consistently been on the side of what's right.
Because when it comes down to it, this is about keeping faith with the idea of America.
Because America is an idea, isn't it? I mean, Ireland's a great country, but it's not an idea.
Great Britain's a great country, but it's not an idea.
That's how we see you around the world… as one of the greatest ideas in human history.
Right up there with the Renaissance... right up there with crop rotation… The Beatles' White Album...
That idea, the American idea, it's an idea. The idea is that you and me are created equal…
It will ensure that an economic recession need not become an equality recession.
The idea that life is not meant to be endured, but enjoyed.
The idea that if we have dignity… if we have justice… then leave it to us, we can do the rest.
This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper. And God love you for it. Because these aren't just American ideas anymore. There's no copyright on them. You've brought them into the world. It's a wide world now.
I know Americans say they have a bit of the world in them. And you do. The family tree has a lot of branches. But the thing is… the world has a bit of America in it, too. These truths… your truths… they are self-evident in us."
                                                                - Bono, Georgetown University, Nov 12, 2012
My wife and I saw Dinesh D'Souza's "America" this weekend. I wish he had titled it differently, especially the subtitle "Imagine the world without her" since the movie has nothing to do with how the world would have evolved differently without the influence, workings, and contributions of the United States. Rather, in his paean to our country, D'Souza attempts to refute the various 'charges' made against America (as he identifies them) by various 'America haters' from the liberal academic left and extends his warnings from his last movie, 2016, to draw a damning thread from Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The basic premise is this: the 'haters' believe America stole everything that made its growth possible and has maintained its dominant position by force while D'Souza argues that America's behavior has actually been the opposite of all other great powers throughout history -- defeating enemies but not looting their wealth (in fact, helping them to rebuild); setting into law the foundational principles of equality, justice, the unalienable rights of individuals, and rule of law such that over time they would eventually and consistently trump policies and practices that were antithetical to them (e.g. the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution would eventually work to overturn the practice of slavery and discrimination based on race); and adopting capitalism as the economic foundation for the country such that entrepreneurs, innovators, tradesmen, laborers, and anyone with ambition, a work ethic, and an idea has the opportunity to generate and accumulate wealth unlike any other economic system practiced around the world. 

I think the first part of the movie works as intended in that D'Souza raises facts perhaps not known by the general public while the last part of the movie is a wonderful tribute to the things that America is and what it represents and reminds the viewer of the importance of opposing efforts that would undermine and lessen America. I wasn't too keen on the middle part where he personalizes things too much and for too long but perhaps there just aren't many other ways to point out that there are people in government, academia, and various interest groups who for sundry reasons seek to change America from what it has been to something that would be unrecognizable by those who established her, fought to keep her whole, and who have promoted and protected her for so long. 

Our country is not only an amazing place full of opportunity for anyone with the ambition to 'do something' but the manifestation of an amazing idea that free men and women can 'do anything.' 

The Framers of the Constitution envisioned a system whereby government would be large and powerful enough to do things that private citizens could not, such as defend the country from external threats and establish and enforce a legal framework that protected the rights of citizens and ensured commerce could flow from state to state without undue hindrance but not so large and powerful that it would dominate the people in the very way that the British Crown had to such an extent that the people chose to 'throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Yet people being people, it is common for many to seek an easier path through life, one based on handouts or advantages for which their effort need be minimal if at all, or to fear some other group based on differences in race, ethnicity, religion, or social or economic status. As D'Souza points out, there are those who seek to further their own ambitions by exploiting such tendencies, weaknesses, biases, and prejudices for personal gain whether that is power, influence, profit, and some perverse pleasure in seeing an existing order disrupted just for fun. The challenge, of course, is for the citizenry to see such things for what they are and to have enough awareness, self-discipline, pride, and sense of civic responsibility to reject such charlatans, trouble makers, and selfish opportunists. 

Like any sort of disciplined life--in religion, business, sport, civil society--the fact of the matter is that there are no short-cuts that lead to any sort of sustainable, productive end...at least not one worth having over the long term. The principles woven through the foundational documents of our Nation possess extraordinary power for good, for productivity, for lasting power, and for civic virtue that benefit all of us. But they take time to come to fruition and to have lasting value once in practice. They can withstand numerous abuses as they have within them the mechanisms for correction, but they are not impervious to destruction if the citizenry tolerates too many abuses, too many distortions, and too many false promises for too long a time. 

There are those who are busy turning the various instruments of government against the very people for whom the government is supposed to work. When the IRS is used as a tool for political advantage to intimidate and silence opponents, when the Department of Justice is leveraged to selectively enforce laws based on the preferences of the party in power, or the "bully pulpit" of the presidency or any other elected seat of political power is used to practice the politics of division (race, economic class, social status, ethnicity or country of origin, etc.), when the virtues of our country are used to harm us, exploiting our cultural preferences for altruism, compassion, and an innate desire to help others, Good People should take notice and make clear that our country has served as a beacon for people around the world because of what it is, what it stands for, the IDEA that it manifests. But if that is changed, America can't help but be something else. If those who would change America want America to be like all other countries, then America will be like all other countries. How is that a good thing when the peoples of the world have looked to America precisely because it was different? 

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