Ours is the only country intentionally founded on a good idea. What’s happening to that idea?
Americans have never been afraid to argue with each other. After all, our country was born in dissent and founded by revolutionaries. Airing our differences is not just a long tradition, it’s one of the hallmarks of a free society.
But there are certain ideas that seem to invite no argument, and which resonate in the hearts of all Americans. Take these words: dreams, faith, opportunity and freedom. Or these: pride, honesty, hard work and craftsmanship. Or these: caring, compassion, contribution and community. These familiar ideals have united us across all generations and provided a beacon of hope for other freedom-loving nations throughout the world.
Proud to be an American?
Up until recently I have always been proud to be an American, and for good reasons:
Perhaps like yours, my grandparents emigrated to America in search of a better life for themselves and their families—and they were not disappointed.
I grew up in an Italian neighborhood where everyone stood in line to vote at the church across the street from our house.
My Dad had an eighth grade education, but he read the editorial section of the newspaper religiously every day. When I was a little kid, he took me by the hand to see President Eisenhower speak to a huge crowd in Seattle. I could tell that my Dad was awed by the experience.
During the Viet Nam era I joined the Marine Corps, which made my Dad’s chest swell with pride. As the years wore on, I, too, voted proudly in every Presidential election—sometimes Republican, sometimes Democrat, and once Independent—but always for the person and his ideals rather than the party.
Sharing American Values with My Kids
When my two kids were barely old enough to appreciate the privilege of being born in America, I took them with me into the voting booth so they could pull the levers with me.
This past month (25 years later) I went to Santa Ana, California to march with my kids in the Women’s March. When we stopped at a gas station a young Latino guy with tattoo-covered arms confronted me at the pump.
“I don’t mean this bad,” he said in broken English, “but what do you think of Trump?”
There it was—the question I’ve been weighing in my own mind for the past few months.
“Why do you ask?” I said.
“Because my family is Mexican and we don’t like the things Trump says about us,” he replied.
Fair enough. I spoke from the heart. “I am proud of my country,” I told him, “but I’m ashamed of our new President. I’m sorry for what he said about the Mexican people. He doesn’t speak for me or most Americans. His values are not our values.”
The young guy smiled at me then and I smiled back. “You are my brother,” I said sincerely. He smiled again, gave me a fist bump and then spun on his heels and walked away.
Should I have said what I said? Was I disloyal to my President or my country? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that the spirit of a nation resides in the hearts of its people. All of us have a place in the strange story that’s unfolding in our country right now and we all share the responsibility for our place in it. How we think, speak and perform as individuals during the Trump administration will determine how we perform as a nation. The whole world is watching how we will react to this new kind of autocratic American leader, and none of us can afford to sit quietly by and say nothing.
Good versus Great
In the Marine Corps I learned a motto: Semper Fidelis. It means always faithful. I don’t know much about patriotism, but I do know there are certain things I am always faithful to. I would go to jail for these ideals, or even die for them:
In the America I know and love my Commander-in-Chief would never violate the Geneva Convention’s ban against torture.
In a nation founded and built by immigrants, my President would never crassly close our shores to those seeking a better life.
My President would never turn his back on American allies or treaties.
He would never disgrace the leaders of Democratic countries while praising the tyrants of dictatorial countries.
He would never tell the American fourth estate—a free press that is the envy of the world—to sit down and shut up.
He would never launch personal attacks against our judges or judicial system simply because he may not get his way every time.
My President would never poke fun at disabled people, or take financial advantage of working people.
He would never use his power or position to violate women.
And he would never put our entire planet in jeopardy by defying literally thousands of scientists who warn that America needs to lead the fight on global warming rather than deny or abdicate from it.
President Trump has repeatedly said that he admires the example and leadership of Ronald Reagan. I think Trump would do well to read some of Reagan’s speeches and adopt some of his values, too.
Reagan rarely boasted of greatness, as Trump likes to do, but Reagan often spoke of goodness.
“The heart of America is strong,” said Reagan, “it’s good and true. The cynics were wrong; America never was a sick society. We need to see rededication to bedrock values of faith, family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom—values that help bring us together as one people.”
Make your administration good again, Mr. President, and the greatness will follow.