Ordinary Americans Are The Nation’s Unshakeable Greatness
Thanksgiving is a time for both festivities and reflection.
The United States has had the best of times and the worst of times, prosperity and depressions, the joys of peace and the privations and cruelties of war. But throughout these vicissitudes, there has been one bright constant: the decency of ordinary Americans unhesitating in risking that last full measure of devotion under the banner of liberty and justice for all.
That has been our inspiration and our deliverance from despair over our chronically flawed leaders earmarked by avarice, narcissism, megalomania, and duplicity.
The history of America is largely a history of the courage, industry, ambition, thriftiness, and selflessness of ordinary Americans.
The roots trace back to immigrants fleeing Europe at great risk in the quest for religious liberty and economic opportunity. They didn’t confront death for money. They sought to create a “city on a hill” as a beacon to all peoples seeking government by the consent of the governed.
Who started the American Revolution?
Remember the opening stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn:
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flags to April’s breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood And fired the shot heard round the world.”
Ordinary soldiers suffered most at Valley Forge.
The American Declaration of Independence underscored the equal dignity of everyone from the highest to the lowest:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The U.S. Constitution was established and ordained by “We the people of the United States.” Among other things, it expressly prohibits titles of nobility.
In other words, every man or woman is a king or queen, but no one wears a crown.
Alexis de Tocqueville in “Democracy in America” underscored that voluntary associations established by ordinary Americans were the nation’s most distinctive and vital sources of strength.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address celebrated the sacrifices of ordinary soldiers who died that this nation might live, who risked that last full measure of devotion so that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan preached, “[I]n view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”
The Statue of Liberty blazes forth with, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Stand in awe at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery and Memorial in France where lie the remains of more than 14,200 Americans who died in a war to end war.
Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner gave their lives to secure civil rights for black people in Mississippi. Detroit housewife Viola Liuzzo was assassinated by the Klan in retaliation for advocating universal civil rights on the last night of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March.
Not enough can be said about Jackie Robinson’s courage in confronting racism and shortstop Pee Wee Reese’s conspicuous friendship amid a howling assembly of bigots in the grandstands.
And who can forget 9/11 hero Todd Beamer on United Airlines flight 93 over Pennsylvania shouting “Let’s roll” on a suicide mission to prevent Al Qaeda terrorists from reaching their target?
The fundamental decency of the American people is demonstrated daily by the flood of immigrants seeking refuge and opportunity here. In contrast, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Burma, and sister tyrannies have few takers, a vote of no confidence.
America is an idea, not a race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or nationality. President Lincoln, in a message to Congress on July 4, 1861, taught that the leading object of government was “to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”
But complacency we can’t afford. We must resist the temptation to strike Faustian bargains exchanging decency for self-aggrandizement or selfishness.
Never miss an opportunity for kindness, benevolence, or expressions of gratitude. It costs nothing. And you will make the world a better place.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!