The promise of America, from the perspective of a European.
5 min. read
A big thank you goes out to Bieke Vandaele for editing this video.
America, why I love her.
Even across the Atlantic, it’s hard not to notice that America is going through a tough time lately. It’s certainly not alone in that regard, but as it’s the 4th of July, I wanted to help remind our friends across the pond of the beauty of their country and maybe offer some outside perspective regarding the promise of your great nation and the issues facing it today. While this is just the perspective of a single person in far-off Belgium, I hope it will give you some insight and more than that, hope.
Living up to the ideal.
One of the things I admire tremendously in Americans as a whole, is their sense of idealism and a confidence that they can achieve just about anything. It’s a trait that I sometimes wish us Europeans had a little more of.
Unfortunately it’s also a trait that cuts both ways. Especially when you can’t agree on what the ideal is, which seems to be the case lately. If you follow the media it often seems like America can’t decide whether it’s the greatest country on earth or a complete mess.
What has struck me, as an outsider, is how often America’s past is brought up in these discussions. Something that’s not done very often in Europe when we’re talking about our own countries.
In danger of sounding like a therapist, I believe that’s because there’s unresolved conflict between America’s historic promise and its reality. Let me explain.
Throughout history, there are two defining moments that shape America and its expectations for itself to this day.
From its very birth the United States of America seems to have been destined to be something special. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were revolutionary when they were first written down and are still exceptional in their unequivocal guarantee of the people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Its golden age
While the 20th century as a whole is generally called America’s century, I would argue that its true golden age ranged from about 1940 to 1960.
After the second World War, America had come out of its isolationism, and joined the rest of the world by defeating the Axis powers. After which, instead of enslaving or punishing their defeated foes, they helped them rebuild and turned what were once bitter enemies into allies. While the rest of the world was licking its wounds, America was riding high, with its citizens enjoying an unparalleled standard of living.
No matter what criticism anyone may have about the 1940’s and 1950’s, there’s no dispute that America was, at that time, the best place on earth to live. To Americans and foreigners alike, it truly was that Shining City on a hill.
Unfortunately, reality has a tendency to not turn out exactly how we want it. So the next couple of paragraphs might get a bit negative, but it’s important to get through them.
As we all know, it took a while before the rights guaranteed in the Constitution were applied to all America’s citizens. Its treatment of black and native Americans did not live up to the ideals of freedom promised during its foundation.
I used to rule the world…
Even though the USA is still the world’s superpower, it has seen its position of dominance eroded. Badly fought wars, as well as economic and social crisis revealed cracks in its invulnerability.
At the same time, other countries started to develop and caught up in living standards, with some even surpassing the USA in certain areas. So much so that, by the end of the 20th century, saying that America is the best place on earth to live has become a matter of debate.
Living in the past
It was important to line up the expectations and reality like this, as it’s how Americans seem to have divided themselves.
On one side we have those who focus on America’s founding and its golden age, and see it as proof that American ideals are what makes it great.
On the other side we have those who look at America’s failure to live up to these high expectations and see that as proof that America is nothing special after all.
Now, why do Americans seem to put so much more focus on the past compared to Europeans for example? Well, in my opinion, because there’s so little of it.
Most countries around the world have centuries, if not millennia more of history to compare to. In the collective consciousness of our people both good and bad things stand out a lot less. We have gotten more used to the peaks and valleys that form our history. Similar to how an older person is more emotionally resilient against the ups and downs of life, when compared to a younger person.
Looking towards the future
However, in keeping with that metaphor, we often lack the vigor and enthusiasm of a younger person. This is something America hasn’t lost yet. The idealism I mentioned earlier and willingness to stand up for its values can be powerful weapons to change the world for the better.
That’s one of the main reasons I pin such high hopes on the American people when it comes to the Made By Liberty project. If there’s one country that’s willing to do what’s necessary to preserve freedom in the world, it’s the USA.
So I would like to leave you all with some humble pieces of advice.
- Don’t forget who you are, the core values of liberty and responsibility are what make you so unique.
- Stay united, don’t let the idealism that makes you strong drive you apart. Listen to each other, even if you disagree.
- Be patient, the country doesn’t have to be perfect by tomorrow. Focus on improving things in sustainable way.
- While we can draw lessons from the past, it should not be the main focus. It’s not the past that makes America great, but its future.
I truly believe America has all the ingredients for greatness. It will require a lot of hard work and dedication, but I, for one, have full confidence that America can, once again, be a beacon of hope and freedom to the rest of the world.
From a friend across the Atlantic, I wish you all a happy birthday!
If you found this message insightful or you think other people would benefit from reading it, don’t hesitate to share it! The world can use some positivity right now.