Note: This is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Sellout: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch”, which will be released in July or August of this year. Happy Independence Day! Recalling the archetype of the “authentic black,” I suppose the expectation is that I’m supposed to temper my passion for America with my knowledge of her tainted history and keep her under constant scrutiny because she is still an inherently racist, xenophobic and sexist nation.
In this day and age, I’m certainly not supposed to be a political conservative or a devotee of the Founding Fathers, that group of privileged white men whose lofty principles weren’t manifest in their daily lives. After all, they owned slaves, stole land belonging to Native Americans and treated women as second-class citizens. According to the collectivist agenda, the authentic American black man must never forgive and never forget. Instead, he must characterize America’s moves toward righteousness as grudgingly done only under duress.
I take the path of forgiveness and grace, so I’m an unabashed patriot when it comes to America. For me only God and family take precedence over my home country. I am proud to be an American, I am not the least bit ashamed of her and I thank the Lord every day for putting me here over all the other nations on earth. In “Two Americas,” I offered my vision of America:
One America sees our nation as a “shining city on a hill,” a force for good in the world, and richly blessed by God because we have used our power to advance freedom rather than tyranny, seeking only enough territory to bury our dead from the wars fought in foreign lands to save millions of people from oppression.
We are a people of character, and we believe there is good and evil in the world and that anyone with common sense knows the difference.
We are a people that care for one another and we are generous to the world, giving more private charity to other countries than any nation past or present. We are compassionate toward those who cannot help themselves and will help those who can to become productive and self-sufficient citizens. We believe that the true power of our nation is in its people and not in its government, and it is our emphasis on individual liberty and initiative that has made us strong.
Our systems of government and economics are the envy of the world, and our freedoms are a beacon to millions who came here, and continue to come, to realize their dreams of creating wealth for themselves and their families, or to worship in peace, or simply to breathe the rarified air of liberty. More people seek to come to America than to leave.
While we know we are not perfect, we have unceasingly strained toward the goal of living up to our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, three of the most transformative secular documents in world history.
With our combination of military might, the largest economy in world history, and a higher number of immigrants than any other nation that has ever existed, we believe that we are exceptional, and we are a stabilizing and comforting presence in the world. In short, we are proud of America and to be called Americans.
I gave years of my life in her defense as a member of the armed forces, as did my father before me, so I’ve always been immersed in the symbols and ceremony of my country--the uniform bedecked with American emblemology, the Stars and Stripes, the National Anthem, the marches, the patriotic speeches on Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, the Fourth of July, and so on.
When I lived overseas, either as a military dependent or an intelligence officer, I was always mindful of the fact that my words and actions reflected not only on me but also the United States of America and I tried to conduct myself accordingly.
For all the folks who think this country is irredeemably flawed, precious few of them ever actually go away to some other more enlightened land, wherever that may be. In fact, more people have emigrated from foreign lands to America than any other nation in history, and over a million people a year legally come to our country from distant shores. Over a million immigrants became American citizens in 2008.
Entertainers who use the bully pulpit with which they’ve been blessed to bash America are particularly loathsome to me. They went from waiting tables, playing in neighborhood bands or doing local dinner theater to the starry heights of fame and fortune because millions of ordinary Americans bought tickets to their movies, watched their TV shows, attended their concerts, bought their CDs or downloaded their MP3s. Yet they don’t hesitate to mock and denigrate those same Americans for their heartland values, their faith or their love of country. They’ve forgotten the phrase “Only in America” and never stop for one minute to think of how blessed they are to live in a nation where they can find such success.
Why do I love America? Simply put, it was the first nation founded on the principle that each individual human being is precious in the sight of God. Everything good that has happened in America since its founding has been predicated on our constant striving toward that goal.
I don’t see the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the end of Jim Crow laws and the ascension of a black man to the White House as steps taken reluctantly, but rather the inevitable consequence of a nation whose constitutional law is ordered to the dignity and worth of the individual human person.
Our Founding Fathers were troubled by slavery even as they drafted the U.S. Constitution, and although they made concessions in the interest of preserving the Union, they knew it was a moral evil that could not long survive in a nation founded in liberty. America’s history tells me that its good-willed citizens are always straining, stretching and clawing toward the ideal under which our nation was founded, and we will not cease until that ideal has been reached.
Hence, all major religions of the world thrive here. Even our poor have a higher standard of living than billions of people worldwide. That is why immigrants, with their work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit, are more successful in America than in the great nations of Europe.
That is why my ascension as a black man in America isn’t based on being in the right tribe, having the right bloodline or being in the majority or the faction with the most guns. I succeed in America because I matter as an individual and I am empowered to chart my own direction. As long as I play by the rules, there are thousands of fellow Americans, some I’ve not even met yet, who stand ready to help me and cheer me on.
It was America, not the supposedly more enlightened European or Asian nations, which elected a person of color to lead the most powerful, most prosperous, most influential nation that has ever existed on the planet. Am I better off in America than in any other country in the world, even as a black man? To quote a certain former governor of Alaska, “You betcha!”
Even as President Obama travels around the world apologizing for America’s sins, a dubious exercise from my perspective as a veteran assigned to help defend freedom in foreign lands we liberated from tyranny, I have two observations of note. America, unlike empires past, never stays where it is not wanted and almost always leaves a nation better than it was when we first arrived.
From the shores of Normandy to the beaches of the south Pacific, most of the world owes its prosperity and freedom to the United States of America. Whatever the circumstances that led us to be where we are, certainly the people of our armed forces, if not the government, have always tried to do the right thing by our fellow human beings. We have generously given more in charity and shed more blood for the betterment of our world than any other nation and for that I make no apologies.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a speech to British ambassadors in London:
I am not surprised by anti-Americanism; but it is a foolish indulgence. For all their faults and all nations have them, the U.S. are a force for good; they have liberal and democratic traditions of which any nation can be proud. I sometimes think it is a good rule of thumb to ask of a country: are people trying to get into it or out of it? It’s not a bad guide to what sort of country it is.
It is a sobering sign when the chief executive of the nation from which America declared its independence 233 years ago understands the exceptional nature of America more than many of its own citizens. For me, America is John Winthrop’s “shining city on a hill” and she stands as a beacon to human beings everywhere.