America the Beautiful is having a somewhat difficult time with her love life these days. If you listen to the various stories circulating in the political media this month, her relationship with many high profile citizens looks more like a bad remake of The Kardashians than Gone With the Wind. Yes, it seems that at least for some of us, America may be easy to love, but she’s not so easy to like. Kevin D. Williamson at National Review explains how America might look at the modern progressive movement and conclude that they’re just not that into her.
For the progressive, there is very little to love about the United States. Washington, Jefferson, Madison? A bunch of rotten slaveholders, hypocrites, and cowards even when their hearts were in the right places. The Declaration of Independence? A manifesto for the propertied classes. The Constitution? An artifact of sexism and white supremacy. The sacrifices in the great wars of the 20th century? Feeding the poor and the disenfranchised into the meat-grinder of imperialism. The gifts of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Astor? Blood money from self-aggrandizing robber barons.
Perhaps part of the problem here is that we need to acknowledge that there are two Americas. (No, I’m not going all John Edwards on you here.) One is the America of theory. It’s an idea… or perhaps calling it a dream is a better description. That America is a stack of dusty documents dating back centuries. It’s a body of laws which define a way of life essentially unique in the history of mankind. It’s a place where opportunity awaits the bold and hard working, and everyone can remain the master or mistress of their own destiny. It’s the shining, effulgent city on the hill which Reagan spoke of. This apodictic reality is a given for anyone with even a basic, elementary school education.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t actually reside on that hill.
The other half of this dual personality is the living, breathing America which we all see when we step outside our door or turn on our televisions and laptops. That America tends to be a rather messy place, filled with all manner of people, not nearly all of whom fit in with our own personal vision of proper residents of paradise. We quarrel and squabble and attempt to push America into this or that corner, constantly seeking to retrofit the day to day reality of the country we ostensibly love. This, by the way, is a design feature rather than a bug.
These two Americas are not incompatible in any way, shape or form. The visionary America is truly a marvel, and those documents and laws describe something which should indeed resemble paradise for anyone who loves the concept of freedom. Unfortunately, the government which must be constructed to conform to those architectural plans is composed of people, and perfect people are in short supply. The most ambitious of the aforementioned squabblers inevitably wind up being elected to positions of power and their ability to shove America toward their preferred corner is more pronounced. Such elections beget change and it generally heads in one of two directions. Progressive leaders will seek to push American society toward a playing field with more equality of outcome, while conservatives will enact measures to provide more equality of opportunity.
Unfortunately, these are directly contradictory goals, so no one will be happy for very long. As such, the complaining goes on and will do so as long as America manages to keep her feet beneath her. But when we begin asking all of these questions about whether this person or that person loves America, it’s probably prudent to remember that they may not, in fact, love the America they are seeing today. But even for all the solipsistic traits on display, they probably want to love America if she would only behave a bit more to their tastes. And if history is any guide, sooner or later she probably will, and that will continue until she doesn’t again.