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It seems an inevitability that every year around the Fourth of July, certain media will publish a series of articles reminding people how unremarkable it is to live in America.

This year, The New York Times’ opinion team didn’t disappoint, publishing a video that declared, “we’re just OK,” and explaining to viewers that when compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. really doesn’t stack up.

The video cites “a whopping 18% poverty rate, closer to Mexico than Western Europe,” lower high school science, reading and math levels compared to other nations, and high rates of obesity that result in far higher health-care costs, to name of few of America’s unforgivable blemishes.

Cynthia M. Allen mug

Cynthia M. Allen

The video, of course, mockingly mentions the areas in which America excels, including “civilian gun ownership, mass shootings, TV watching, prescription drug abuse, prison population — Oh, and almost No. 1 on environmental damage, edged out by China.”

The narrator suggests that at times, it would be understandable to confuse America for a developing country and ultimately determines that one’s understanding or sense of American greatness is determined by personal wealth and little else.

The narrator’s mocking continues with a quip about American liberty — “But we have freedom in America, and everyone’s jealous ... or something,” reminding viewers that hey, other countries have freedom, too, and we don’t even use ours, since just over half the population participates in national elections. Never mind that (however ill-advised), abstaining from an election is a critical element of freedom.

The video was of course intended to be provocative and to challenge the reflexive notion of some that American exceptionalism is permanent and static — an honor forever justified by long-dead Americans’ collective contributions to the world, (although, it’s worth noting that even the greatness of the nation’s Founders is a point of contention these days).

And here, the video’s creators may have a point, albeit a small one.

The United States’ status as a great nation, secured early and defended courageously during the ensuing centuries, isn’t a guarantee. Every successive generation is charged with living up to the high standards set by those who first envisioned America as a beacon on a hill. That’s a difficult challenge, especially during a modern age where the primacy of the individual has subverted the pursuit of the common good. But I digress. There have been, and will continue to be, notable failures along our nation’s moral course. Still, to borrow a phrase popularized by the great, yet flawed American, Martin Luther King, Jr., its arc will always bend toward justice and freedom. Thanks to the high ideals established when America was still a nascent nation, it always (ultimately) has. Despite The New York Times’ poo-pooing of American freedom as something ordinary or banal, freedom is a hallmark of American greatness. It is what has made many of its other attributes (and failures) possible And over the years, despite arguments to the contrary, freedom in the U.S. has vastly expanded — from women’s rights to race relations and civil rights to gay rights — and it has happened in a remarkably short period of time. There are legitimate reasons for concern over our nation’s direction. Political extremism on both ends of the spectrum, although hardly a U.S.-specific problem, has the potential to limit freedoms in ways the Founders foresaw; and we have the power to prevent.

The images of migrants crossing our nation’s southern border and enduring awful conditions in detention centers for many reasons are difficult to stomach.

Yet they are the starkest reminder that our nation is more than just OK. It is great. People wouldn’t be clamoring to get here if it weren’t.

It’s best we keep that in mind every day.

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Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at cmallen@star-telegram.com.

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(13) comments

Hive

I must insert. Freedom there was but one real freedom and it did lasted "a wink" in time. It was the freedom gained then given to us, the people in this republic, who were too dim, to paraphrase Adams and echo Jefferson's fears...and here we are! We are only what we do...! or don't do. Freedom is always decided by victors! The "freedom question" should revolve around who are the "victors!" So far, no one seems to have been able to sustain freedom, even or especially when given to those who paid for it in blood. And we wonder where the Trump's come from? Please! "

Hive

"Who watches the watchman?" Precisely the point. Freedom (Liberty) demands TLC, Winners rule...always, so...it behooves one to do right. If nothing right exemplifies a path, meaning also apathy sets in, as it has in America...consider the reason (s) our form of government really has not been dupilicated...and do. Freedom only survives when it is understood to be the gift it is and is cared for and nurtured...against those selfish dingers who want it only for themselves, never willing to chance the idea that if they make the other person look good, they secure themselves...takes trust and so on. Freedom is there, it was defined and given to us, then we slowly piddled it away. Seems we (America) needs to face another serious threat from without, not create phony ones...to take or rule. Simple, but simple things are the most difficult to explain, especially to self-oriented dodgers.

mssnater

Freedom can be defined many different ways. Money buys freedom from prosecution. Look at Epstein. We'll see how it works out for Acosta.

jdinfinity

3-parter. Without the parsing on WDN being enable anymore, it makes it such a farging' pain in the arsse to get ideas across in separate parts. Anyways Hive, on your last part? Fascinating. Deserves more discussion. Assuming freedom is born out of necessity, assumes that it wasn't there in the first place. Does it not? Aha. Yes people make the freedoms, but that doesn't mean they necessarily exist. If you deprive a man of freedom, show him not, or make him believe there are no other freedoms, except the ones he has, he'll still willingly accept that it's freedom, and continue on his merry way, whether it is or not. Where does this grandiose theater of justice and society derive the means by which to dictate what freedoms do exist, and what by higher authority. Who watches the watchmen?

jdinfinity

Anyways, as to what kill suggests. Things could get real ugly in this country. Removing people's privacy and anonymity is the first step to censoring their behaviour, much less throwing them out of the country. There is a real, tangible threat we could descend into far worse realities than simply throwing immigrants out. U can ask any idiot, right wing republican about it, when other liberals aren't around. They believe a race war is coming. And I guarantee they'll be the ignorant fools bringing it.

jdinfinity

"Seems many who say freedom does not exists or are not as deliniated by society (the ultimate arbitrator) do so under the the very freedoms they say are non-existent" -Hive | Yes but it doesn't stop such freedoms from being removed if found distasteful. I had a post removed a couple days ago from WDN for vulgarity. Deserved? Probably. But still censorship nonetheless. Which sadly, invariably, and self deprecatingly leads to more credence as to the second part of what Hive said after the above quote.

Hive

JD, a child is born. It has the same rights regardless of house, so survive. Humans, dogs, ants, are not all the same. Top of the line is rational and can define its wants versus its needs. Freedoms per se only exist when deprivations exist...and if that is the case, what makes a deprivation a deprivation, for a rational being? Is it decided by a person (one) a parliament (many) a society or the subject (one)? One only needs to walk in another's shoe's to define a world, seems to me, and survive!

Hive

Kill, not so confusing to me...just selfishness. Isn't "E Pluribus Unem" selfishness' opposite? Liberty demands vigilance and that demands work.

killallthelawyersfirst

It is confounding, so many are short-sighted. For example, the NSA flap over personal information being used after 9/11 was accepted republican (Bush) security. It was stopped later, now, it has begun again but is supposedly confined to southwestern people, which I doubt. Any Trump target is fair game, which is confusing, The collection is one thing Trump followers do not care about, even if they might become targets in the future. The administration, Trump, is a mirror of 1930 German Brownshirts under Raum/Hitler and an elite fascista.

Hive

Oooops! Greypanther +1! Question implied, what about a digner POTUS, incapable of learning from errors...is his "bubble" so dense?

Hive

Two, maybe not so minor, issues. Seems many who say freedom does not exists or are not as deliniated by society (the ultimate arbitrator) do so under the the very freedoms they say are non-existent. And, the greatest fools are those who stumble and do not learn, excluding of course, the fools who never try.

Greypanther2

A real test of the moral strength of a nation is the humility to recognize and admit to its failures and demonstrate a valid resolve to correct them. I think that particularly over the past two years we've flunked.

jdinfinity

Still not convinced these so called, 'freedoms' really exist in the first place. Not while some are above the law, but not others. Nor does anyone have any freedom, except to be told to 'do it your own way, if it's done just how I say'. That's not freedom, it's the illusion of freedom. An elaborate deception to cling to...

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