What is the basis of this country?
After giving this any thought at all, many of you were likely confronted with certain buzzwords associated with the United States, at least by those who were raised here: Equality. Liberty. Freedom.
These terms, however trite they may seem to anyone who trudged through the suffocating redundancy of secondary school social sciences, are what define America for most Americans. When we think about why we live here, why we (however reluctantly) support our government, and why we are repulsed by the socialism dominant in other Western states, it seems to usually boil down to these three essential qualities.
But with formalities aside and theory forgotten, when you step outside of the classroom, unglue your eyes from the theatrics of political rhetoric and go into the real world, the real America, how much equality, liberty, and freedom do you see?
Probably not as much as was promised to us future Americans by the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. To be sure, these virtues do make their way into real-world interactions in many ways – many legal debates find their foundations in them and social contact does seem to be governed somehow by a respect for these broad appeals.
But not really. A country that imprisons those who steal because they have been given no other option while simply slapping the wrist of those who embezzle and launder money can’t really be praised for equality. A country that allows thousands of poor neighborhoods to send their children to terrible schools can’t be credited with bountiful liberty. And a country that lets sexual slavery run under the radar from coast to coast can certainly not be called completely free.
I am not against America. On the contrary, I believe that America affords its citizens opportunities not seen anywhere else in the world. I could give examples countering those above that allude to the relative greatness of America in the three areas I have mentioned.
But that’s hardly the point. The point is that while Americans know there are problems in America like the ones I referred to above, we still live under a relatively stable paradigm of equality, liberty, and freedom.
We know these things are real. Historically and otherwise, these values have proven themselves to our hearts and our minds, and as long as we consider ourselves Americans, we live under them.
So, we abide by these rules of our society inside our own heads, but watch them get broken every day. We think of these things immediately when asked what the foundation of the United States is, but are confronted with violations of them whenever we open a web browser.
As historical triumphs become distant, and ingenuity, deceit, and imprisonment flourish in the present, I worry that the solid American values indoctrinated within us may be withering away.
Collective memory, after all, can only take us so far before the reality of now takes over.