What makes America great?
Are you proud to be living in America?
It’s a serious question. It seems to be more complicated these days.
In fact, it seems to be the focal point of much of the polarization that dominates the headlines and social media. The fuse of discord. Some seem to think others don’t love America, or don’t love it enough, or embrace it as blindly as a true patriot should.
There are those who have decided that they have a right to decide whether you love America, or are proud to be an American, or even if you are, indeed, a “true American.”
Others counter that if you love something you will defend it against damages inflicted by the malicious or mindless or negligent acts of any person or entity that appoints itself the final or singular authority.
So, are you proud to be an American, and why — or why not? This being a land where opinion and freedom of speech are valued more than thoughtfulness and civility, we are bound to have controversies. You might think your response is correct if it’s honest and straightforward — but not so fast.
You may think you are better qualified to your opinion because you are better educated, or just nicer, more tolerant. It has been my experience that intolerance lives on the edges. The middle gives and takes, but the intolerance at the extremes in all directions of social interaction, from religion to politics, eats the young of those who do not share the zeal.
President John Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
But even when he said it more than half a century ago, some dismissed it as little more than a slogan from a liberal Democrat. Just politics.
Over on the other side, in the same era, Republican Barry Goldwater sought support for the presidency among those who shared his view that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice ... and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
And anti-war liberals said, Just politics.
But when you think about it, outside the campfire circles of the tribes who relentlessly demand that we choose sides, there’s probably room for both Kennedy’s and Goldwater’s words in the national dialogue.
That, to me, was the idea from the beginning. Not that the founding fathers didn’t fight over words and definitions and their limitations. The intentions were in the middle; the nastier arguments were on the fringes.
When we come back to the middle, we function as a nation that leads the world. We get pulled to one side or the other, up and down, from pragmatic conservative commercialism to idealistic, progressive liberalism, but when push comes to shove, we bring it together long enough to be the America that will be defined not by any one of us, but in the ledgers of history, written down and memorialized — or moralized — by future generations.
Or so it has been until now. Now, I share with others a deep concern for the safety of the one characteristic of our Americanism that has kept this experiment in civil government viable.
That characteristic is decency.
Others may choose other words, and that’s fine. In fact, I was reading something this past week that defines what I value in both spiritual and social terms.
The writer William Kent Kreuger’s novel, “Manitou Canyon,” has a scene in which an Ojibwe elder concludes a Christian wedding ceremony for a mixed-race couple with an Anishinaabe blessing. He wishes for them the gifts of the Creator: The Seven Grandfathers; respect, truth, bravery, wisdom, generosity, humility and love.
To me, that’s about as American as you can get.
After retiring from a career in journalism, Dean Minnich served two terms as a county commissioner. His column appears on Thursdays. Comments may be sent online to email@example.com.