As a mother, it is almost impossible to imagine sending a child on a long and dangerous journey, alone, into the unknown. And yet that is what tens of thousands of parents in Mexico and Central America have done, hoping their children will find sanctuary in the United States. That tells you a great deal about the terrible violence and poverty in other countries. It also tells you a great deal about the United States.
As we celebrate the birthday of our nation this weekend, a happy summer day of flag-waving and bicycle parades, it’s a good time to recall what makes our country special, why people from all over the world risk everything to come to our shores.
It’s not because we have a generous welfare system or guaranteed health care – many developed nations offer safety nets. It is because the U.S. embodies a dream. The dream is of freedom, of safety, and of opportunity. The dream is built upon the rule of law, the generosity of our people and the promise of advancement for those willing to work hard.
It means that a struggling deli owner can send his daughter to medical school, or a Jewish immigrant’s son can become one of the world’s most successful fashion designers, or the mixed-race son of a Kenyan socialist can become president.
These things happen occasionally in other countries; in the U.S., if you care to look, you can find such people every day. I don’t believe the dark suggestions that upward mobility has ground to a halt in our country; every day I encounter evidence to the contrary.
I believe in the LA taxi driver I met two months ago who came to the U.S. from Armenia because he wanted better schooling for his daughters – who now attend UCLA.
I believe in the African-American vet who served in Iraq, went to college on Uncle Sam’s dime and scored his dream job with a major advertising agency.
I believe in the Vietnamese refugee who came with his penniless family to New York when Saigon fell, was taken in by a church-going family on the Upper West Side and is now a senior exec with Bank of America.
These are people I know, but you know others just like them.
There are millions of Americans with stories like these -- and with parents who made sacrifices, worked night shifts and gave their all so their kids could have a brighter future. Is it all a mirage?
There are statistics that confirm every narrative, good or bad, about our country.
For those feeling gloomy about the challenges we face – the sad state of our public schools, our struggling unemployed, our needy infrastructure – I recommend getting out more. What you might actually encounter in this brilliant land of ours may astonish you.
Ours is a country of incredible beauty, extraordinary industry, plentiful resources and endless ingenuity. This is not just Pollyanna speaking; this is real life – as compared to the dire alarmism favored by our media, who rarely report on the millions of Americans who give to their churches, support their neighbors, serve their country, are not afraid to speak their minds, vote on Election Day and pay their taxes. In other words, maybe, people like you – good, sincere, hardworking people.
Consider the 2013 World Giving Index, published each year by an international nonprofit called the Charities Aid Foundation, which assesses the level of monetary giving, volunteering and the helping of strangers by people in 135 countries.
In the most recent survey, the U.S. ranked first – the most “giving” nation in the world. In another analysis, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development determined that citizens of the U.S. are more generous with their own money than those of any other developed country.
Our “voluntary social spending” totaled 10.2 percent of GDP in 2009 (latest available); the only other countries even topping 5 percent are the Netherlands, the U.K. and Canada. And, that’s not because Europeans pay much higher taxes to support a more lavish welfare state. According to the study’s authors, the U.S. government redistributes 20 percent of GDP in the U.S., compared to 21.9 percent on average in other OECD nations – not much difference.
What else distinguishes Americans? Most Americans believe in God. Most of us – 78 percent – are Christians. And as Americans we take our religion more seriously than those in many other countries.
Compared to many other foreign peoples, we are direct and friendly, and we are individualistic.
Also, we are, despite the incessant drumbeat of negative news, optimistic.
In 2013, after years of recession and stagnant earnings, polling by the Pew Research Center showed that “Americans' core values and beliefs about economic opportunity, and the nation's economic outlook, remain largely optimistic and unchanged.”
According to the survey, in spite of all the hectoring from President Obama and others whose political fortunes depend on sowing social discord, “Americans are certain that the nation can solve its problems, that hard work ultimately pays off, and that income divides are an acceptable part of a healthy economy.”
Moreover, the authors report, the middle class “do not resent the rich, and are not calling for policies to reduce the wealth gap….As in the past, they themselves aspire to be rich…”
That is not what you might conclude from reading the New York Times, or listening to President Obama. But it points to another critical ingredient in America’s special sauce: common sense.
We know what works and what is idiotic. When things really run off the rails, people come together – in denouncing our spiraling deficits, or challenging the Iraq war.
We are not perfect, but we are not afraid to voice our views, and we enjoy the blessing of being able to do so.
So, as we rally ’round our flag this Fourth of July, let us put aside the gloom and doom and recommit to what has made our country great: belief in ourselves, concern for our neighbor, and optimism that the best is yet to come.
Let us remember the vision of America so wonderfully captured years ago by Ronald Reagan:
“…After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home."
As we celebrate the birth of our nation, let us continue to fulfill that promise.