I believe in America.
Her institutions and her people are good. Her institutions have given us a polity that brings together three important ideas in Western thought: order, freedom and justice, defined as the limited right of each to pursue his nature as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. It is the unique balancing of these three ideas that gives America its “ordered liberty.” And her people — oh, her people! They have risen to challenges large and small in our communities and across the globe.
These are achievements to be proud of — achievements previous generations of Americans have been proud to defend, and achievements previous generations of Tired and Poor have traveled to be a part of. Belief in these achievements was an informed patriotism that presupposed that this was a great nation.
The American story has changed, but today it seems no less good. “America,” to quote Emerson, “is just another word for opportunity,” and my heart tells me this is still true.
I know that this informed patriotism is no longer infused in my peers. Perhaps it was Clinton’s intern shenanigans, or perhaps butterfly ballots and hanging chads, or maybe it was the failures of the current administration. I suspect our collective cynicism lies in the falls of our personal White Knights. I know that scandals and disappointments have caused people to lose faith before. I do not know what has made these efforts at repair more difficult in this time. But I have guesses.
Those who still burn the flame of informed patriotism were given Hope as the nation chose its new president. Barack Hussein Obama (notice that since his election, Obama’s middle name has become acceptable for use, even embraced) has reawakened a spirit of possibility in what America once was and what she can be again. His rallies end with chants of “USA! USA!” that remind me more of the 1980 Olympics’ Miracle on Ice than a political rally of our day. Those who have mocked the patriotism of their fellow citizens in the past now see themselves in that newly common position.
Perhaps this is no different than in times past. America has faced crises and has had leaders who embodied Aristotle’s idea of Magnanimity. Washington brought the Federalists and the anti-Federalists to sign a Constitution and a Bill of Rights; Lincoln held the Union together when one side would make war rather than let the nation survive; FDR lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees; Truman showed us that the Founders’ Faith in “the People” was not misplaced.
And while my excitement and (American) optimism leads me to hope this feeling of pride will last in perpetuity, I know this will not be the case. I was reminded of this today as I read the news and saw al-Qaeda attack our president — my president — with words that bring us back to our nation’s Peculiar Institution. Their words — they referred to Obama as a “house Negro” have put our nation’s current place in history and in international relations into context.
America has enemies. Did we create them? Do they hate us for our ideals? Important questions perhaps, but not the right ones for the moment. We have these enemies and they want to kill us and mock our president even when that president is no longer named Bush.
President-elect Obama understands this better than most politicians. In 2003, at an anti-war rally during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, he said, “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.” During his time in the Senate he reiterated this idea. Since winning the nomination, he has hedged on his promises regarding pullout — since the election his personal moves have indicated an understanding that this a dangerous world and that the natural state of things is war, not peace.
I am excited for the Obama presidency. I believe we can see in it and in him the origins of a New Patriotism that can inspire us as Kennedy’s New Frontier inspired an earlier generation. But my enthusiasm is borne out of belief in what he tells us about ourselves — not out of grand illusions of a new politics.
Those who believe Obama means the end of our nation’s problems will be disappointed.
Adam Lior Hirst is a junior in Branford College.