That headline might be somewhat puzzling to most of you. But, I believe it must be asked. We often hear about “American Exceptionalism” and the “Land of the Free.” It is time to consider just what those terms actually mean. Next week is Thanksgiving. It is a time for us to reflect on our good fortune for living in such a good country. And, yes, America is a good country.
The problem is that somewhere we seem to have lost our way. Somewhere we have lost our vision. Somewhere we seem to have lost our identity. This is shown by the rhetoric that has permeated our politics for the last 7 years or so. We have gone from a country where everyone can live their dream to one that claims only certain people can live the dream.
American Exceptionalism is not what the Republican candidates are saying it is. To me, American Exceptionalism is the fact that Americans have a big heart. It is the idea that we are all descended from immigrants. That we understand that our country offers freedom and a chance for a better life to all people of the world. It does not mean that we can start wars whenever we want because we don’t like others. It is not denying civil rights to any group of people simply because they are different. It is not closing our borders to those seeking safety.
Our laws say you have the right to believe in whatever god you choose. You can worship however you want in peace. It doesn’t matter what religion you choose, you have the right to believe in that religion. Or, for that matter, you can choose to not believe in any religion.
Civil rights are supposed to be for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter what you believe. It doesn’t matter if you are different. The Bill of Rights were designed to protect the minorities from being persecuted by the majority.
You are allowed to follow your dreams. You are allowed to dream big or dream small. You are allowed to exercise your right to say what you wish. That is what freedom really means. It means that regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what you believe, you have a right to live in peace with the same civil rights as everyone else.
American Exceptionalism is the very idea that when other people are in trouble, Americans open their hearts and even pocket books to help them. It is idea that we open our doors to the oppressed and the frightened. It is the idea that we as Americans believe that everyone has the right to live and live without fear.
I spent 20 years sitting in little rooms crammed with radios listening for people in trouble. Once that call came in, I never asked what nationality they were, or what religion they were, or what race they were. They were in trouble and it was my responsibility to get the machinery moving to get them help. That is what America is really about.
Yet, today we hear things like all Muslims are terrorists. Refugees from a war-torn area of the world are being compared to “rabid dogs. We hear that homosexuals should face the death penalty for being homosexual. We are hearing that we should close our doors to refugees.
These words are not coming from private citizens. They are coming from men and women who want to be our next President. They are coming from people who claim to love our country and our constitution. These are people who want to lead our future.
If they believe in these words, what kind of future will America have? If they believe in these words, what kind of country will we have? At what point is the American People going to say stop? At what point is the American People going to say enough of the trash talk? When are the American People going to say we are exceptional because we love our neighbors and are willing to help those who need help? When are we going to become America again?
We are a country of immigrants. We are a country of refugees. We are a country that is supposed to be all-inclusive. We are also a country of brave people who do not hide from shadows. We face our fears and prove to the world that we are better than that.
This whole mess we are in has nothing to do with religion. It has nothing to do with jobs. It has nothing to do with “religious liberty.” It has to do with whether or not we will be a people of love for others or a people full of hate and rage. It has to do with whether or not we respect each other, or hate each other.
There is a large faction right now politicking in the idea that we should hate each other. They are politicking that we should hate others. They are politicking on the principle that only a few should enjoy the freedoms and liberties our constitution offers everyone.
That is not America. That is not American Exceptionalism. That is not what our country is about. As you look forward to our Thanksgiving Holiday next week, think about what America has always been. Maybe you too will ask, “Where has America Gone?”