On Race, Anti-Americanism, and the Goodness of America


I took my 11-year-old son to an Indiana University basketball game in Bloomington earlier this year and could not help but appreciate the audience demographics. It was a sold out crowd, overwhelmingly white, observing two teams that were predominantly black. I could discern a sporadic black patron, but he was inevitably lost in a turbulent sea of whooping white fans that had descended upon the fabled Assembly Hall. Their attachment and reactions to the setbacks and advances of their team as they rallied from a 13 point deficit in the first quarter to a two point victory in the final seconds seemed not in the least abated by the presence of the nearly all black players whose fortunes they had collected in large numbers to promote with great ardor. Nor could one mistake the elation of the crowd as they exited the stadium after the game.

And I saw in this tiny microcosm of life and race in the US, an expression of the essential goodness of this nation and evidence that the melting pot theory of American society remained very much alive - the notion that the myriad cultures, races, and ethnicities that have presented to our land are ultimately absorbed into a common American culture - not withstanding the best efforts of its detractors to portray it as something else. It also reminded me of the curious and irrational phenomenon of anti-Americanism, a kind of mental disease that has infected otherwise gifted minds in salons and capitals throughout the planet, including in our own nation, where it has perched itself quite securely in one major political party, in media outlets, the academy, and other institutions as well.

There are many on the Left, in Europe, the US and elsewhere, who perceive the US as a malignant force that oppresses others and threatens world peace. The US is, for them, a scurrilous, secretive state with fascist tendencies ever encroaching on civil liberties at home and human rights abroad. The US has a racist past, replete with slavery, lynching, and segregation, but it is also fractured along other fault lines, including gender, sexual orientation, class, and religion. The narrative holds that the US is an imperialistic, reactionary hegemon whose government and military are to be regarded with suspicion if not outright hostility.

Yet the question must arise even amongst America's most fervent critics, just how this nation has managed all that it has; how other nations possessed of similar populations, land masses, and resources have faltered, while the US stands alone as the great suzerain, the one hyper-power as many on the other side acidly refer to it as?

The elements of America's success are surprisingly straightforward and should warm the hearts of those avowed of liberal proclivities, unless this spirit has been overtaken, as it often has been, by the mental collapsing contagion known as anti-Americanism. It includes a brilliant constitution (available to any nation for review), free markets, various and sundry other freedoms (speech, the press, religion, assembly…), consensual, representative governance, an independent judiciary, human rights, private property, accountability, the rule of law and the associated supportive institutions, providing oversight, checks and balances. A Judeo-Christian moral foundation also seems quite helpful although not indispensable (see Japan and other emerging Asian powers).

In other words, create a system that actively defends the sanctity and rights of the individual and unleashes and protects his creative powers and you have the beginnings of a great nation-state. Where other nation's fail in this project may be steeped in issues of history, culture, and fortune, but if some or all of the above ingredients are excluded, the outcome will be unsatisfactory and sum total suffering vastly increased. The likelihood of positive change is also stubbornly resistive as entrenched interests will aggressively object.

Every nation has its skeleton's, no nation save perhaps Bhutan can claim immunity from the failures and inequities that visit every human endeavor, but on balance, it is hard really to argue against the greatness of this country. In some 200 odd years, the US has gone from wilderness and prairies to the most powerful and advanced nation on earth, providing an unheard of standard of living and unimaginable opportunities for its citizens. All this, while cleaving to its founding principles of freedom, human rights, and democracy, notwithstanding some significant gaps and errors along the way - to which the nation has labored arduously to correct and resolve.

In the US, we have the world's greatest example of a nationalism based on liberal democratic culture. There is no nation on the planet not represented here in large numbers, many in the tens of millions, all of whom (save the blacks) have arrived voluntarily, many unfamiliar with its language and culture, seeking a better life and the freedoms and opportunities this nation uniquely offers. The US is easily the greatest symbol of what the human family is capable of for it is here where all of humanity has gathered to work, cooperate, and forge a common destiny predicated on freedom, liberty and the pursuit of one's dreams.

Which brings me back to the basketball game. While it is recognized that blacks have endured a long and treacherous journey in this country historically, it is also understood that they, along with fellow compatriots, must now count themselves among the blessed by virtue of their American citizenship. Still, it is heartening to see Americans of all stripes embracing blacks in varying fields of endeavor both on the field and off, a small token of the hope that prevails in this eminently tolerant and liberal nation - a nation, I would add, worth fighting for.


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