I’m a proud American. Growing up, I can recall reading my social studies or history textbooks and thinking how America is the best. Every time there was a problem, we faced it. Every time we faced it, we came away better. We believed in freedom over an oppressive British rule? Yeah, we crushed ‘em. Nazis were bad? Crushed ‘em. Russia was a bully? Crushed ‘em. Slavery was bad? We ended it. Women didn’t have rights? Susan B. Anthony changed that. The fight for Civil Rights? Martin Luther King Jr. led us from the darkness.
It was the 1990s, and for a school kid in New Jersey who didn’t know what “American Exceptionalism” was, I fully believed that America was the greatest place on Earth for every single reason. Slavery was bad; we abolished it. We led the Industrial Revolution on the backs of the some of the most brilliant and revered business minds, whose names still adorn skyscrapers, museums, concert halls and institutions throughout the world.
Yet, here we stand, in 2018, a country seemingly once again divided, and struggling to progress forward on any given problem – some of which seemed so certainly solved in my nineties textbook.
I write this following a week where bombs were sent to political leaders and tragic gun violence stole the lives of 11 innocent people in Pittsburgh, Pa. Regardless of your political viewpoint, you undoubtedly recognize that the actions stated in the previous sentence were wrong and horrid. Democrat or Republican, Jew, Muslim or Christian, I would’ve thought that 100 percent of people in America would think these acts are wrong. Carried out by mad people with mad ideals that don’t live up to our America values. That’s what my textbook would’ve said. America is better than that, or so I thought.
What will the textbook say about us in 100 years? Granted, there might not be textbooks. The truth though is that if we continue on this path, if we continue to treat each other without love, compassion or an ounce of respect, there might not be an America, either.
This isn’t a political plea. American Exceptionalism wasn’t invented; the American people coming together to do the right thing proved it time and time again. Children were working 14-hour days in factories? Let’s stop that. Ninety-nine percent of the time what is right and what is wrong is clear. It just might not always be what you want to hear.
Of course, the hardest part of putting America first is putting us second. If our general population had just a smidge of the compassion that our veterans do, or our police and firefighters do, we can once again be the place we are so proud of. The selflessness they demonstrate daily leads them into situations where they must put others before themselves. On 9/11, those people rushed into a burning building to save people they never met, and sacrificed everything because in their hearts, they knew it was what was right. They are our heroes and we must never forget them. Instead, we must act more like them.
We might no longer be the “smartest” country in the world, or the most eco-friendly, or the fasting growing industrial nation. The dollar might not be the strongest amongst other currencies or our air the freshest to breathe. Our lifespan may not be the longest or our streets the safest. We do, however, have the unwavering American spirit – the feeling that because of where we were born we can achieve our wildest dreams and overcome any obstacle.
Our many heroes, from our founding fathers to Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony, lived their lives fighting for a better tomorrow – the tomorrow I read about in those textbooks. It’s time we come together again, united as neighbors and communities, and remember what those individuals fought so hard for. It’s time to restore the American dream, and the only way to do it is together.
By Brandon Goldstein