PERSPECTIVE: Considering July 4th: What makes us great?

I wanted to celebrate this Fourth of July thinking about what makes our country great. (For Democrats: It was never not great. For Republicans: It could be greater. See, not political.)

It’s true we have a greater percentage of our population in prison than any other nation. It’s also true that we have a growing income gap between the rich and the working poor.

And we have major national issues that are being ignored while our leaders childishly argue and tweet about things better left to adults. Our infrastructure is deteriorating, our educational system is falling behind, our medical and prescription costs are prohibitively expensive, and deadly opioids are destroying families and killing more of us than the Vietnam War and AIDS combined.

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Ironically, seems as though many of our problems arise from what makes us great. We have great freedom to speak and write and travel, and are minimally restricted on activities and ownership, with due process and rules on searches and privacy … and such freedom naturally results in individuals flexing their muscles and pushing the limits. We are also undoubtedly the most desired nation on Earth, so we have become extremely diverse … with its attendant frictions as we learn to get along.

Education is another area where our strength can give rise to problems. Our universities attract the best from around the world, yet our children are having difficulty competing. That’s because unlike many countries, we support universal and equal education, even among those with special needs, rather than coddle a select privileged few. A strength, yes, but with inherent problems.

Our government and institutions are extremely (and almost embarrassingly) transparent … we have vibrant competitive media covering news of any sort and anything and everything that even looks like wrongdoing.

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And we have an ingenious and unique system of checks and balances which results in accountability. No secret tribunals or trials here. No demigods, no oligarchy, no dictator. No state-run propagandized media or sham procedures. No religious fanatics dictating our everyday lives. No egotistical leaders plastering up their images and being worshipped in schools. Our Constitutional form of government has been copied and is emulated and admired all over the world.

And, whether we like the role or not, we are still the exceptional and compassionate world leader. When something bad happens in the world, who is on the front lines? When a natural disaster strikes, who steps in? Not only do we help, but we are universally expected to help, and are sometimes even chastised for not responding sufficiently or quickly enough. Where is Argentina when there’s a tsunami, or Canada, or Norway? Conversely, when we have a 9/11 or a devastating hurricane, where is everyone? With our massive debt it’s surely not because we’re rich. It’s because we really do care, and have always cared, what happens to others. It’s part of who we are individually and as a country.

So why are we great? Where are we No. 1? My quick list: Freedom, transparency, accountability, education, compassion, diversity. Make your own list, and enjoy the Fourth.

David Shumway is one of our regular community contributors.

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