It’s easy to forget what’s good about America.
First, to a remarkable extent, Americans retain the bedrock freedoms of the Founders. By any measure, today’s America is much closer to the vision of its constitutional framers than to any non-democratic regime.
Second, most Americans continue to connect freedom with responsibility. As the French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote in the 1830s, when Americans see problems, they usually don’t wait for government to act. They take action, informally and through “voluntary associations.” Notwithstanding some notable exceptions, this is usually on display following natural disasters, such as the recent hurricane that struck the Eastern seaboard, as communities often clean up faster than expected.
Third, what Tocqueville wrote about religion and freedom in America is also true today. In nearly all of its forms, American religion remains a powerful friend and grassroots enabler of democratic values and civic participation.
Fourth, America is a place where consumer prices have been surprisingly stable for the past 30 years. A pair of inexpensive men’s jeans costs nearly the same today as when Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office. The same can be said for many other goods and services. Part of the reason is the flood of cheap imports. But a second reason is American ingenuity and creativity, a product of the freedom which helped birth the technological and Internet revolutions, driving productivity up and costs down.
Fifth, in spite of the growing capabilities of emerging powers like China, the U.S. military remains the most formidable in history. Further, it has used its power to advance freedom, not slavery. While it has sometimes been accused of nation building, it has soundly rejected empire building.
Sixth, despite unprecedented competition from abroad, America’s labor force remains very attractive due to its amazing productivity. This is one of several explanations for big corporations remaining or setting up shop in America. It’s a reminder of how labor costs aren’t just about wages and benefits, but performance on the job.
Seventh, due in part to the American-led technological and genetic revolutions, the world is now able to produce more than enough food to feed every human being. Only wars and dictators prevent this from happening. America has helped destroy the Malthusian myth about population growth inevitably outstripping food production.
Eighth, immigration remains a boon for the country. While illegal immigration is a challenge, legal immigration brings not only some of world’s best and brightest individuals to our doorstep, but whole communities which are reviving some of our bleakest neighborhoods while sowing the seeds for a more family-friendly society.
Ninth, while tens of millions of Americans are without health insurance, the majority who have it can typically afford the same doctors as the richest people in the country. This is a truly historic achievement that quietly arrived in the late 20th century.
Last but not least, America remains the humanitarian helper of the world. When people across the globe are in dire need, they turn to America and Americans.
Yes, our problems remain. But let’s not overlook all that is well with America and its people.
Paul Liben has worked in New York City and Washington, DC as a speechwriter for the past 15 years. He served as a speechwriter for New York Governor George Pataki and then as director of speechwriting for U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.