America is the greatest country on earth.
Until recently, this statement was essentially a jingoistic platitude. Maybe it was accurate, but it was so commonly repeated that it had become meaningless.
Yet, as we approach our Independence Day, it’s worth asking, is it true? Is it still true? Was it ever true?
To quote America’s cultural arbiter Colin Kaepernick about President Trump: “He always says ‘Make America Great Again.’ Well, America’s never been great for people of color. And that’s something that needs to be addressed. Let’s make America great for the first time.”
Kaepernick, who experienced a very nuanced type of oppression in which he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract to finish 38th of 39 qualifying quarterbacks in offensive rating according to Pro Football Focus, highlighted a common complaint about our nation’s history.
Certainly, our timeline is filled with many missteps, some of them disastrous violations of our own stated principles. It seems obvious to us now, that a country who believed all men were created equal, should not enslave an entire race. And while sensible arguments of context are valid and important for our understanding, the fundamental cruelty of slavery should have been obvious to everyone.
Of course, many of the founders did realize this and fought passionately against it, including even the much-maligned Thomas Jefferson. In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson criticized the King and slavery, accusing him of waging “cruel war against human nature itself” by carrying “distant people who never offended him” into “slavery in another hemisphere” where he was “determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold.”
The destruction of the existing institution of slavery was quite literally one of the original arguments for our country to exist.
Later, there were abolitionist heroes like Matthias Baldwin. Born soon after the constitution was ratified, he took an apprenticeship at the age of 16. He worked hard, innovated, and invented, and constructed an impressive resume. He built machines and locomotives.
He was an outspoken opponent of slavery, a fact that was used against him by his competitors in business. He didn’t care. He co-founded the Franklin Institute, named after Ben Franklin, also an abolitionist. He took the money he made in business and opened up a school to educate African-Americans in Philadelphia, and paid the teachers out of his own pocket.
His statue, erected in the same city he built the school, was recently defaced by protesters who spray painted the words “colonizer” and “murderer” on its base.
One of the reasons America is great is because our foundation was essentially an All-Star team. It’s made up of all the most ambitious people from around the world. These are men and women who had the guts to leave everything they ever knew, get on a boat that might just sail off the edge of the earth, and try to set up a life in a giant, empty field. They wanted a shot at freedom so badly, they risked everything on a bet that should never have paid off. And when things weren’t going the right way, they declared independence and went to war over it.
Of course, while the talent level of an All-Star squad is high, it’s not always easy for all of those big personalities to form a cohesive team. We don’t always play nicely together. There are some selfish players. Sometimes, there are fights at practice. We’ve seen this a lot lately. But no one is arguing that America is a perfect country. Just that it’s better than everyone else. We have had intense struggles, but where else would you rather be?
We still have our problems, some growing right in front of our faces, and others shrinking without our notice. But yes. This is America. The greatest country on earth.
On this Independence Day weekend, take a minute to realize it.