The Promise of America


Photo courtesy AFP/AFP/Getty Images

1963 March on Washington

American politics are defined by a chasm of division so deep that it becomes incomprehensible that the two sides might agree on something. Ironically, the far left and the far right indeed do have something in common: they really don’t like America. The far left regularly evokes condemnation of America in its belief that our nation is fundamentally irredeemable, and the far right’s nativism forces it to shun those who built America as we know it today: immigrants who seek a better life. 

This past midterm election cycle, political analysts learned an impressive truth: voters everywhere—Republicans and Democrats alike—rejected extremism in favor of balance. At the core of all of this, however—and badly overlooked by most political pundits—is the genuine exceptionalism of the American system. If we look at the numbers and the facts, in no other country on earth anywhere near as close as diverse as we are does such an elaborate representative election cycle occur every two years. When we truthfully examine the realities of our nation, some impressive facts about America as a whole stand out:

  • America is the only majority-white nation in the entire world to have ever elected a black president.
  • Children of American immigrants are more likely than children of native-born citizens to find themselves in a higher income bracket. 
  • America welcomes half of the world’s immigrants—providing them and their families a chance at a better life.
  • Immigrants in America contribute uniquely to the nation’s economic, social and cultural development. 
  • Most importantly, American identity is defined not by race, ethnicity or religion but by a shared belief in core values of freedom, tradition and meritocracy. 

In her book “Political Tribes,” Professor Amy Chua of Yale Law School puts this uniqueness of America into words: she coins the term “supergroup” when describing America. Chua continues:

Alone among the major powers, America is what I will call a super-group. A super-group is first of all a group. It is not universal; it does not include all humanity. It has a “We” and an “Everyone Else.” But a super-group is a distinctive kind of group: one in which membership is open to individuals from all different backgrounds—ethnic, religious, racial, cultural. Even more fundamentally, a super-group does not require its members to shed or suppress their subgroup identities.

Of course, not everyone agrees with Chua’s thesis—there are those who call shamefully for the exile of immigrants under a misguided notion of racial homogeneity, and there are those who believe that American identity is nothing more than a societal construct conjured up to unite a nation which is irrevocably divided. I, meanwhile, disagree fundamentally with both camps. I believe that Professor Chua’s argument verbalizes best the intentions behind one of President Ronald Reagan’s most enduring quotes:

America represents something universal in the human spirit. I received a letter not long ago from a man who said, ‘You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk.’ But then he added, ‘Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.’

President Reagan is indeed correct. It is this notion of American identity as open to everyone that attracts millions of immigrants who seek a better life in a land where they know opportunity and freedom are limitless. Because American identity is open to everyone who would like it—not restricted to whites or blacks, Asians or Hispanics, men or women, young or old—America is indeed not only a “supergroup” but what I would like to call a supergroup of people—who are bound by shared dreams and destinies. 

Even for those of us who are the fiercest defenders of American values and who stubbornly fight against efforts to reject the essence of who we are, we also must acknowledge rising extremism on both sides of the political aisle. Far-leftists are more likely than any other self-identified political group to not feel pride in being an American, and the far right’s belief in racial and cultural homogeneity threatens the melting pot of cultures that have made America strong and beautiful. What can—what must—we do to save the spirit of our country?

Surprisingly, our answer is resoundingly clear. We stick true to our values. We fight for freedom, whether it be the right to express our political beliefs without fear that an angry mob will shut us down or the right to speak our mother tongues in public without being told to go back to where we came from. We fight for inclusion, whether it be the intentional effort to include everyone’s voice in the decision-making process—no matter how stubborn dissidents may be—or the right for every American to feel welcome in the country that they call home. We fight for tradition, whether it be the promotion of the virtues of American history in our educational system or the continuation of our longstanding national ability to find it within ourselves to fight for a more just and more equal—a more perfect—union.

It is up to each and every one of us to maintain our resolve—to always defend individual liberty, protect societal tradition, and work together to maintain the America of so many people’s dreams. If we believe in America, she will not give up on us. The ideas upon which America was founded will always be an example for the rest of the world to follow, which we know most profoundly through the words of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail: 

We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. 

Freedom, however, does not reach itself. We the people must reach the epic heights of our freedom for which many millions have yearned throughout their lives. The future and fate of our beloved nation fall squarely in our hands. Now, we must not be afraid to act.