What to value about America

Lee H. Hamilton
Saturday, February 29, 2020
What to value about America

Lee Hamilton

Sometimes, you just need to step back. The political conversations I hear these days are strikingly negative, and there’s a lot of discouragement out there. I’ve done my share of carping, too. But at times like these, I find it helpful to look for the positives, as a reminder not to lose sight of the benefits we all share as Americans.

For one thing, in the great game of world politics I’m pleased to be able to identify with the United States. We have an economy that remains the envy of the world, and our overall performance — both political and economic — holds up well against our chief global rivals, Russia and China. Quite remarkably for a superpower, we have friends, allies, and partners whose ties are voluntary, based on shared ideals and values.

We can always do better, of course. Some of our alliances have become frayed of late, we may no longer be at the pinnacle of global power we once enjoyed. But we’ve been able to protect our standing without descending into outright war, and we can still have a profound influence for the better on the world around us.

This is in part due to the nature of our democracy. Yes, I understand that as liberals, conservatives, and moderates all compete aggressively for power, sometimes the competition gets out of hand. But we also have a longstanding tradition of free and fair elections, a free press, separation of powers, the rule of law (though some of these are under stress right now) and an active civil society.

All of these produce a feature of our democracy that constantly impresses me: our capacity for reform. If we make a mistake, which is hardly uncommon, we have the ability to correct it – usually by working through the system to change course.

This is why I don’t share the gloom I see in a lot of the predictions about where we’re headed. Since our founding we have striven to achieve “a more perfect union,” and though that goal has suffered setbacks and at times seemed beyond reach, over the course of our history we’ve always been able to advance toward it. It takes hard work to overcome the challenges and to bounce back, but our capacity for self-renewal is strong and no less vital now than it ever was. We should remember that.

Lee Hamilton is a senior advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a distinguished scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a professor of practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


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