Sunday was America’s 245th birthday.
Most people were busy with fireworks, family gatherings or welcoming the expected surge of tourists. Others will were wrestling with weightier matters, specifically, if America is even worth celebrating.
There is no shortage of prominent Americans who act as if the answer is no. Olympian Gwen Berry turning her back while the national anthem played is the latest example. Colin Kaepernick went from a backup quarterback to cultural icon by kneeling for the “Star Spangled Banner.” Since then, scores of NFL, NBA and MLB players have done the same.
America is facing serious philosophical attacks, too. The New York Times’ 1619 Project argued that 1619, when African slaves first came to the colonies, is the nation’s true founding. Critical race theory contends that America is founded on white supremacy and that concepts which appear race-neutral, such as equal rights, are actually cover for the discrimination that’s inherent in the U.S. system. CRT and its follow-on concepts, such as white privilege and anti-racism, have swept into many corporations and schools.
A country whose founding purpose was to systemically oppress people based on their skin color would be worthy of condemnation, not praise. It would need to be torn down and reformed.
That’s not America. The country’s foundational principle is “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
For decades, the government didn’t apply that ideal to all. But abolitionists didn’t call for an end of the country. They demanded the country live up to its own standards.
“The Constitution is a glorious liberty document,” Frederick Douglass said during an 1852 speech excoriating America for its hypocrisy in not extending those unalienable rights to Blacks.
“Take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single proslavery clause in it,” he said. “On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”
Douglass wasn’t the only civil rights leader who believed America’s founding documents needed to apply to African-Americans.
“I still have a dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous 1963 speech. “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
In many tangible ways, America has carried out the vision cast by Douglass and King. The North fought the Civil War, which led to the end of slavery. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. Barack Obama won two presidential elections. Just weeks ago, Congress overwhelmingly made Juneteenth a national holiday.
Not exactly what you’d expect if America’s institutions and founding principals were fronts for white supremacy.
The glory of America is even more apparent when compared with the alternatives. In the real world, perfection isn’t an option. China is. It has imprisoned tens of thousands of Uyghur Muslims. They’re subject to forced labor and worse. China recently shut down a pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong.
Look at what people willingly endure to come here. Thousands of Cubans traveled hundreds of miles on rafts hoping to make it to America. Central American parents pay human smugglers to take their children across the southern border. Communist countries build walls to keep people in. The United States builds walls to keep people out.
Those would-be immigrants know something many native-born citizens now take for granted. The U.S. is a bastion of freedom, a land of opportunity and a country with noble and just ideals that inspire people around the world. America is indeed worth celebrating.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.