Fireworks explode over the National Mall as seen on July 4, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
By Kay Coles James
This week, as Americans commemorate Independence Day and the creation of the most free, most prosperous nation on earth, we will inevitably hear from those who say there’s no reason to celebrate a country where not everyone gained their freedom or their equality in 1776. They will say that a nation stained with the evil of slavery, a nation that once refused women and blacks the right to vote or hold property, isn’t a nation worth lauding.
As a woman and as a black person who lived through segregation, I have experienced both the inequality and the opportunity of this nation. As a student of history and as someone who works with governments around the world, I know how women and minorities are treated in other societies compared to the United States. Because of these experiences, I want to tell you exactly why America is worth celebrating.
Despite their flawed nature as human beings, our Founders laid out principles for forming a nation based on humanity’s highest ideals. Nowhere else on earth had that ever been done before. Those founding principles have guided this nation and created a framework that allows society to recognize the error of its ways.
The fact is, we abolished slavery. We even fought a war over it. We ultimately recognized women’s and minorities’ right to vote, to own property, and to have the full and equal rights of any other citizen. We have endeavored through our laws and our actions to eradicate the unequal treatment and marginalization of fellow Americans because of their ethnicity, religion, politics, or other characteristics.
July 4, 1776 — and the principles that day epitomized — began the foundation for a nation that would right its own wrongs.
The unfortunate reality is that we had to grow into our principles. The Founders knew what we aspired to be, but the country wasn’t there yet and even today, we still have a ways to go. In fact, every Founder admitted in his writings that slavery contradicted the equality principle of the Declaration of Independence. They knew that it would be a journey for us to fully realize our ideals, but they set a course for achieving them, and every generation since has been working to advance them. That’s what has made America the unique and wonderful nation that it is.
I love America not only because we’ve grown to rectify many of our wrongs, but also because we’ve been an incredibly positive force for good. We’ve built a free and prosperous nation where anyone has the opportunity to thrive and live out their dreams. We’ve also shared that gift with the world, helping others to achieve the same.
Despite that success, we continue to hear from the “America is irreparably flawed” crowd that our freedom and free market system only bring opportunity to the wealthy and well connected. They claim that the system just makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.
The reality is exactly the opposite: Capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty than any other economic system in history. Plain and simple, over the last 25 years, it has been free markets that have cut the global poverty rate by two thirds. In the United States, every segment of the population — including women, minorities, and even the lowest income earners — have seen their incomes rise and their opportunities grow.
Realizing that people around the world deserve the same blessings of freedom and prosperity that we have, Americans work through our government, non-profits, and private charities to spread these blessings to other countries. We’ve even helped others fight for their very freedom — from both world wars to peacekeeping missions around the world. Despite the leftists who call our nation imperialist, when we help other countries defeat tyrants or repel invaders, we don’t use the opportunity to conquer them and build an empire. Rather, we help them to rebuild and become self-sufficient.
These are all proofs of a nation reaching for its highest ideals.
While it took too long to correct many of America’s early injustices, and while we will always be a work in progress, our founding principles themselves created the framework that has allowed us to solve some of our biggest issues. While not perfect, we are a great force for good that works to bring freedom, prosperity, and that problem-solving ability to our own land and to others that want to replicate them. This is all part of what we are celebrating on Independence Day.
Alexis de Tocqueville said admiringly of America, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” His words still ring true almost 200 years later.
So, on this Independence Day, I encourage you to join me in watching fireworks, eating hot dogs and apple pie, proudly celebrating America, and continuing to work toward the vision of the nation our Founders thought we could be.
Happy Independence Day!
This op-ed first appeared in The Washington Times on Monday, July 1, 2019.
What do you appreciate most about America?