Despite the fact that none of my parents were born in the United States, I would describe myself as being an American patriot. I spent the last sixteen out of the first eighteen years of my life living in other countries and yet I feel an incredible passion about the issues facing this country.
When I try to pinpoint the origin of that passion, I constantly trace it to David McCullough’s 1776. In his narrative history of the beginning of the rebellion that became the Revolution, McCullough paints a brilliant portrait of the men who laid their lives down for the principles of that revolution. It was when I first tried to put myself in their shoes that I first realized the enormity of their task and began to appreciate the exceptional nature of this nation.
The rebels’ faith that there was something better for them in an independent America was astounding. There is a story about a rebel named Nathan Hale who was captured in New York in September 1776 by the English and sentenced to death. Before being hung, he is said to have cried, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give to my country.”
It’s hard to imagine the kind of blinding, all-powerful hope that that story implies. It’s genuinely hard, in this age of relative apathy, to understand that men were willing to lay down their lives for a new country and a new idea of society: That they were willing to stand up to the mightiest army in the world armed only with their faith in the future of this land.
When I think about those men, men who were my age, I cannot help but feel a sense of frustration at the current state of affairs. There is a sense of apathy in Americans today. Many friends tell me that “constitutional violations are so abstract” and that the Constitution is effectively irrelevant to our everyday lives. They repeat that historically, the United States has been nowhere near as socially egalitarian or tolerant as it is now. They remind me constantly that the revolving door in Washington is practically incomparable to the corruption that was prevalent during the gilded age. They point out the fact that in the sixties, it was surprising that we had a white Catholic President instead of a Protestant one and now, five decades later, we have an African-American president.
Essentially, they make the case that there has been a steady upward curve in American history and so the nation will inevitably sort itself out. And they are right, for the most part, in that there is really no such thing as the “good old days” for America. We have seen enormous progress.
However, when you think back to the men who laid their lives down for this nation – the men whose blind hope and faith in the future of this country led them into battle against what was then the most formidable empire in human history – you cannot help but feel that they would be disappointed. That perhaps we owe it to them, if not to ourselves, to try to bring about a convergence between the reality of this nation and the ideal it was made to embody. And we must approach this goal actively – we must not simply wait and hope that it will be achieved for us.
Yes, the enterprise of convergence can be exhausting and seem futile, but it is part and parcel of the American story. It’s a vision, a perspective, that transcends time, space, race, religion, social class and gender. It connected Obama during his brilliant speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention to the young boys who slept in fields outside of Boston in 1776. It is why being a patriot does not mean agreeing with everything the nation does or is, but rather, finding the places where we could improve and do justice to the exceptional story that we’ve inherited. It means holding our elected officials accountable and trying to tell as many people as will listen where we can continue to improve.
Contact Anthony Ghosn at [email protected]