We may seem like a nation at odds with itself. Still, amidst the cacophony and the chaos, the bravado and the bluster, the arrogance and the apathy, lies something special. Our palpable dysfunction regularly obscures the principles and precepts that bind us, not always comfortably, together.
What’s great about America is our tenacious pursuit of lofty ideals—freedom, justice, and equality—despite disappointments and disillusionment. Like an individual, a country benefits from a commitment to continuous learning. Knowledge begets progress; ignorance, paralysis. We have grown. We are growing. We will continue to grow.
What’s great about America is you, me, and the countless other souls who breathe life into our culture; who routinely enrich our potpourri with this shade, that texture, or the other scent. It’s our diversity, seen and unseen, when valued and included as part and parcel of whom and what we are; where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
What’s great about America is her promise, even if not fully fulfilled. It’s the relative availability of glass-half-full opportunity—the chance—that stimulates and drives throngs of us. It’s the fact of real possibility, not the illusory promise of certainty, that anchors and animates us. It’s having the space to dream.
The Irving Berlin standard, God Bless America, paints a majestic, idyllic portrait of the land we cherish. The lesser known first stanza of that paean speaks to an America that is inspirational, aspirational, and exceptional:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
Its lyrics—expressions of love for these United States whose fundamental propositions we roundly embrace—strike a resonant chord. We can all relate as we proudly intone: Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above.
America has not always lived up to her own standards. That said, God Bless America endures as a potent meditation on quintessential America—the America that could be, should be, will be—if we, individually and collectively, exercise leadership.
Each of us has a personal obligation to move this dynamic democracy closer to the high bar we have set for ourselves; a responsibility to hold America accountable to her towering ideals and lofty promises. That shared load requires ongoing vigilance, introspection, sustained dialogue, personal and institutional commitments, and investments of time and money.
What’s great about America is our increasing capacity to recognize and affirm our greatest resource—ourselves—and to leverage diversity and foster inclusion so as to move us closer to our best self as a nation; so as to form a more perfect Union.
Racial conflict, criminal justice inequities, healthcare gaps, income inequality, environmental degradation, poverty, educational disparities, labor and employment woes, or any number of the complex, interwoven, and seemingly insoluble problems that beset us need not and must not define us. We can do better than that. We can be better than that. We can climb the rungs of the ladder of principle implicit in the blessed America of which we so often sing. That’s what’s great about America.
What have you done? What are you doing? What are you willing to do?
What’s great about America is the power of an individual to rise above while reaching below.
America is not perfect; never will be. We face enormous challenges.
What’s great about America, though, is the aspirations we set for ourselves. Our ultimate challenge is living up to them.
Editor’s note: Amidst a sea of outrage and criticisms about all that is wrong with our country, our state, our county and our city comes this inspiring piece by Hannibal Johnson, local author, attorney and consultant. Originally published in the Opinion section of the Tulsa World on May 3rd, 2015, we elected with the author’s permission to repost it here for our Smart Growth Tulsa followers who may have missed it.