Is The U.S. Still Great?


January 28, 2016

Donald Trump says he will make America great again.

In this year's State of the Union address, President Obama said the U.S. is great.

Which is it? Do you think the U.S. is past its sell-by date?

41% of Americans think the American Dream is out of most people's reach, while 38% think it's still possible, and 21% aren't sure, according to a 2013 YouGov poll.

It's alive and kicking, if you ask me. Lest you think I'm too much of a cheerleader, I see the problems. Still - ask yourself: Where would you rather be living if you were put on trial?

Would you rather be in Portugal, where, when Maddie McCann was kidnapped in 2007, the government made so little progress it decided to accuse her parents of taking her? Or in Egypt, where when you go on trial, they put you, literally, in a cage in the middle of the courtroom? How about Pakistan, where the principles of justice are, shall we say, unclear? Or N. Korea, where whatever happens to you is at the government's total whim, and what might happen to you is never necessarily reported nor possibly even discoverable?

We have protections few other people have. I'm not saying the American legal system is perfect; hardly. Yet we have basic rules - the rule of law - at the heart of the way our country operates. In other countries, even in Western Europe, in places where we think of things as basically civilized, I've personally seen fear in people's eyes as figures of authority came near. That doesn't happen here, although the stats on arrests of young male Afro-Americans show it's an issue needing repair.

Where else could a man like Donald Trump even compete for office?

Where else could a Sarah Palin mock our government in her unique way?

With all its faults we are so lucky to be Americans. People want to come here, to work, to live, from everywhere, lured by the American Dream examined by Mark Twain; F. Scott Fitzgerald; John Steinbeck; Langston Hughes; Arthur Miller and others.

Does the American Dream only refer to upward mobility? I don't think so. The ability to raise your social class isn't the only dream America offers.

"You Americans, you're so young. You walk down our streets and you see beauty," my friend Marie-Alice said accusingly in Paris. "Yes, our buildings are beautiful, but when we look at them, we feel weighed down by history. You're a fresh country; you don't feel this. You're new, without the burdens of your past."

Seeing Paris through her eyes opened my own eyes to my birthright, America. Consider our age: we've only had 240 years, against thousands of years of world history. We're young, we're renegade, still thought of as an upstart. We face few of the barriers other countries use to keep people in their place.

The very history of the U.S. is to question authority. We ask questions, we challenge.; it's in our DNA from day one. Then there's our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. Whatever accusations are slung this election season, no one can take those from us. The Bill of Rights says it's so; we're free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. That's not on the everyone's menu.

When you hear political candidates quote economic measures and deficits, keep in mind that we're free. We have auto-correct in our FAQ, though admittedly it may not always be to one's personal liking. We get to reinvent ourselves; our operating system has built-in flexibility. And we're free to argue about it, which you're seeing right now, in our every-four-years pinata game of who gets the keys to the kingdom.

I was moved by Marco Rubio's reminding people that the son of a bartender and a maid could seek the same office as the “son of a millionaire,” (ok, he was referring to Trump). He said, “In no other country in the world would that be possible”. We're still the land of opportunity, albeit reduced in some areas; the Statue of Liberty still pulls them in. Our schools, our hospitals, our very freedom; why do you think so many people want to come here?

I heard the Santa Monica Symphony play "My Country Tis of Thee" at their historic MLK weekend concert replicating Marian Anderson's 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The melody came from the UK national anthem, "God Save The Queen", with different lyrics. Did you know the "Star Spangled Banner" wasn't our national anthem until 1931?

When the Beach Cities Orchestra played it last week, the whole audience stood up. I felt tears in my eyes, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

"That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody's son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted -- or at least, most of the time." (President Obama's 2004 keynote address).

We live in that Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

We live in the best place in the world.


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