The 234th birthday of the United States of America is a fine time to check in with one’s self about how one feels about being a citizen of this country, so today’s question: Am I proud to be an American?
I am. The United States, like so many things, is better as an idealized concept than it is as an actual entity, on account that the nation is made up of people, and while most people mean well, in a day-to-day sense they struggle with their ideals, which are often so inconvenient to their desires. And so, like a married family-values politician with a Craigslist personal ad, or a vegan Febreezing the apartment so no one will catch the smell of bacon, America often finds itself failing its own expectations for itself and others.
In times like this what I remember is that while people (and countries) fail their expectations and ideals, those expectations remain, and even when failing them, people and countries find those expectations and ideals to be powerfully attractive. Despite sidesteps, backtracks and inactions, over time — over the long haul — we move toward our ideals. Martin Luther King famously noted that the arc of history is long but bends toward justice. He was correct, but only to the extent that justice is in itself genuinely held as a goal.
As Americans, we do hold it so: It’s right there in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States, along with other laudable goals. And I do believe that despite whatever day-to-day failings our nation has, however we are on this particular day struggling to live up to our ideal of ourselves, nevertheless over the arc of history we are bending toward justice, and are forming that more perfect union we imagined ourselves having more than two centuries ago. It is this commitment to justice and a more perfect union, written into our country’s genetic code, that makes me proud to be an American, and inspired to make sure that I do my part to get us there.
Will we get there? Not in my lifetime, and perhaps not in any lifetime; people stubbornly remain people, and heir to weakness, desire, self-absorption and stupidity. The Founding Fathers were wise to note we were working on a “more perfect” union, not a “perfect” one, because perfection is hard with actual humans involved. But I believe we can get closer to perfect, and then closer than that, and then closer still. It’s like approaching the speed of light: the closer you want to get to it, the more energy you have to put in to get to it. You’ll never get all the way to it. But you can get close enough to get to where you want to go, in time, with effort.
So happy birthday to the United States of America. I’m glad to be a part of it, and glad to be working on it.