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What America Means to Me

Roy Christman is a retired political science professor and has a farm in Pennsylvania.

That was asked of various residents by a reporter from the Times-News, a paper published in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. The respondents included American Legion and VFW officers, mayors and council members, and an educator.

The phrases "greatest nation on the earth" or "greatest country in the world" appeared in almost half of the answers. Almost all of the respondents also mentioned our "freedom."

The organization Freedom House ranks countries on such factors as civil liberties and fair elections. It ranked the United States 58th. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were tied for first place; Canada was next.

Why was the U.S. so low? Actually, 58th isn't so bad. Freedom House ranked 195 countries and 14 territories, so we are in the top third. It is harder to chant. ("We're in the Top Third, we're in the Top Third" doesn't have the same ring as "We're #1, We're #1".)

We also slipped a few points from 2017 to 2018. Freedom House explained: "The United State's political rights declined from 1 to 2 due to growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration, and a reduction in government transparency."

Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, used different metrics to measure freedom in 162 countries. Its factors included rule of law, security and safety, religion, size of government (?), and, as befits a conservative group, "access to sound money."

Cato ranked the U.S. 17th, below such countries New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Denmark. Near the bottom were Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, and Venezuela. Syria was dead last.

We also could use some improvement in life expectancy. According to the World Health Organization's 2015 listing, we came in 31st, just ahead of Cuba and behind such countries as Canada, New Zealand, Slovenia, and Chile.

 

 

 

 

How about education? In 2016 the Human Development Report ranked the U.S. 8th. Australia, Denmark, and New Zealand were at the top. The good news is we beat Canada, which came in at number 12.

Our historical record has also been rather abysmal. The extermination and removal of Indians, the 250 years of slavery, the Trail of Tears, the discrimination against Irish and later immigrant groups, the relocation camps for Japanese, the treatment of gays, the continued trashing of our environment–but enough.

Here is what I taught in American Studies. For every bad thing this country did, opposing voices spoke out. While the Puritans were driving out the Indians, Roger Williams learned their language and lived with them in peace.

When the colonies were discriminating against Jewish settlers, William Penn welcomed them to Philadelphia. John Woolman and Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote influential works decrying slavery. When the U.S. committed atrocities in the Philippines, Mark Twain spoke up. When Jim Crow laws discriminated against blacks, W.E.B. Dubois formed the NAACP. When the first Red Scare (yes, we had two of them) jailed innocent people, Roger Baldwin formed the American Civil Liberties Union.

Our history is replete with real heroes: George Washington (and yes, I do know that he owned slaves), Abraham Lincoln, Ida B. Wells, Ida Tarbell, Rose Schneiderman, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King. At the My Lai atrocity, helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson and two fellow soldiers loaded kids into their copter to save them.

So that's what America means to me. We are a country that goes down wrong paths, sometimes for centuries, but we have always had people who speak out, try to right wrongs, stand up and shout when our ideals and principles are violated, agitate and organize to put us on the right path.

We need those people. I hope that you and I are among them.

~ Roy Christman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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