An Exceptional Land and People, the United States?

If we were to take the “well-being” temperature of the world, where would it fall, what would be the reading? Of Europe nothing positive is being said. In fact, the “well-being” is not there. Mostly there is talk of a break-up of the European Community of some 27 nations, perhaps preceded by an abandonment of the Euro by the 17 who have adopted that currency.

Throughout the continent Implicit and explicit debt obligations are like a brake or anchor on any possible recovery scenarios and European nations are at best just trying to stay afloat, even their shining leader, Germany.

If we turn to the Middle East and look for some sign of the hope that accompanied what is now already last year’s Arab spring we find little evidence of that movement having gone anywhere in any positive direction, of its having taking root and showing promising growth for the future.

The Arab Spring if ever it was is no longer. Only a few tired old autocrats have left the scene while no new leaders, no new and for the first time in these lands, democrats, have risen to replace them, and we have instead mostly authoritarian and sectarian groups fighting among themselves, all still in the grip of the past, still tied to ancient beliefs and rivalries, now, alas, seemingly unable to change and lead their countries into what could be a new and better future for their peoples.

Then there’s Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the so-called BRICs, — these being, along with the United States, the five largest countries in regard to both population and land area taken together.

The “well being temperature” of the BRICS? And do they hold promise for the future of the world. Do they provide hope, make believers of us all? Are they exceptional? Hardly. While showing more growth than Europe and the United States they haven’t begun to show that they can even handle their own enormous problems, let alone be models for the rest of the world.

If you remove Europe, the countries of the Middle East, and the BRIC countries there is left the United States as a possible savior. (OK, perhaps too strong a word, but what the poor world needs.) People do want to come to the United States, in greater numbers than anywhere else. Therefore can’t we say that we must be doing more things right here than others elsewhere?

And in fact there are, among a total population of more than 300 million Americans, some 40 million immigrants! Not as many perhaps as the immigrant population of the rest of the nations of the world combined, but close to it if you also include so-called illegals that are also here among us.

What is it that makes people want to come here? And it has been this way for hundreds of years, and shows no signs of stopping. Whatever it is doesn’t it make us an exception, the fact that so many want to come here? Why do they want to come here?

My answer would be that here, in USA, there are more people, or at least higher percentages of people than elsewhere, who have more freedom to follow their desires. And here, more frequently than anywhere else, there are more people able to realize those desires, fulfill their individual potentials, and, if you like, make their dreams come true.

And, in fact, if the United States is exceptional, doesn’t it have to be because of this, that the American dream, in spite of all the chatter to the contrary, is still alive today after over 500 years of history?

During the first 400 or more years as the land itself became the possession of the new arrivals, (as it never had been, at least in the same way, the possession of the displaced native American population) you could say that it was the richness of the land more than anything else that most of all permitted the realization of that dream.

But you wouldn’t be right, for even during those 400 years, and especially during the 150 or so years since the closing of the frontier, right up until today, more than the riches of the land it has been the freedom of the individual, the freedom to innovate and create, while drawing on a richness of mental reserves, even more than exploiting the land, that has kept the exceptionalism alive.

You might even say that what seemed at one time to the early settlers of the Western lands to be the inexhaustible riches of the land, that these riches have been more than replaced by the freeing of the inventiveness of a people, the latter a truly inexhaustible resource and one that continues to astound.

For we do astound the world with our creations (admittedly not all admirable), with such as our widely respected and heavily attended university system, our technology wonder companies, those like Apple, Google, and Amazon, and so much else, all together doing so much to change and enrich the culture if not of the whole world at least of all those nations whose borders are open and who allow free or nearly free exchanges between peoples to take place.

Now as I say this I know that many of you are thinking about, and would love to point out, all those ways in which we’re not at all exceptional, and that this world of ours may not be as I am implying the best of all possible worlds.

Yes the United States has its ugly side and its critics have a point. Both before and after our coming together as one nation, we have made mistakes, terrible mistakes, making us look not too different than all the freedom deprived, totalitarian regimes of both past and present.

And there has been no lack of people among us to point out our failings. I remember my own reading of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and my encounter therein with just how unexceptional we were in respect to our treatment of so many of our own people, of native Americans, slaves, (and later freed men), striking workers, immigrant groups, “little people” without defenses of their own.

We thus became in some respects in Zinn’s rendering an all too ordinary country, much as Christopher Coloumbus had become an all too ordinary man as we learned of the horrible events that too place in the Caribbean following his first arrival there.

But the critics are not right. Probably not right even about Columbus, who after all did by his ocean voyages make the world one for the very first time since the break-up of Pangaea, a single earth mass, about 200 million years ago.

Again I would ask if we were not truly exceptional why would so many continue to come here? For they do and in spite of the innumerable number of skeletons in our closets, the Trails of tears, the internments of our Asian peoples, the lynchings of our Blacks, in spite of all the probably mostly unrecorded and horrible things we have done while accumulating our exceptional wealth.

What is it about this country that so many of us still admire. More  of course will always need to be said….

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