Politics / We The People

Remembering the American Spirit: Who We Are and Why it Matters

Lincoln mob justice Waters American spiritThis article originally appeared in Volume 12 Issue 3 of the Amac Advantage Magazine. As we celebrate Independence Day, we reflect upon the meaning of American patriotism and remember the unique qualities that make our Constitutional republic so remarkable.

In 1861, when the nation was far more divided than it is now, President Abraham Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address appealed to the “better angels” within every citizen. Lodged in his passionate appeal was an awareness that America’s destiny – then as now – depends not on what we say, but on what we believe, and then what we do.

Lincoln knew what had gone before had not come easily. He knew what lay ahead would be hard, objectively the hardest test of unity America had ever faced. In a few short years, he would stand on blood-soaked ground at Gettysburg, referring to that awesome vow made “four score and seven years ago,” to preserving liberty and equality. Through it all, he believed. Many Americans do today. While Gallup polls suggest a gentle downward drift of those “extremely proud” of America between 2004 and 2016, another major poll places the national average over that period at 85 percent for Americans who considered themselves “very patriotic.”

While numbers are notoriously sterile and imprecise, especially measuring something as ethereal as love, they can be illustrative, offering a rough bearing. Notably, while the country is fractured by identity politics, patriotism seems to be on the rise among differing cohorts. Perhaps predictably, 98 percent of Republican veterans are “extremely patriotic,” but fully 64 percent of Americans own an American flag, a majority own patriotic clothing, and there is far more discussion today about “what patriotism means” than in decades.

We are in a time of restored appreciation for America’s historic greatness, an open discussion about love of liberty, aspirations for equal opportunity, rights to free speech, worship and association, the value of self-defense, defense of others, fairness, forthrightness and faith.

But all this begs the bigger question. What is love of country? Why does it matter? Love of country – patriotism – is the way we preserve, protect and faithfully pass forward the extraordinary gifts bequeathed to us, we Americans who live today. We cannot pass these gifts forward if we do not understand and speak about them.

Our greatness is rooted in an appreciation for and fidelity to democratic institutions and limited government, our history-changing Constitution and Bill of Rights. These are made real through a spoken and unspoken intergenerational commitment to rule of law.

Our greatness as a People, however, goes beyond black letter law, and love of what the letters prompt. Americans are – and have always been – a people bound by enormous heart. Our culture is one of mutual caring. We actually care – have a part of us always partially focused on charity – for neighbors.

Having spent time working, living, and travelling in more than 50 countries, I can say that Americans are different. Our culture reinforces cheerful resolve, redoubled effort under pressure, and personal strength in crisis. While individuals the world over can have this attitude, there is a cultural emphasis on resilience, never giving up, constantly working to make things happen – getting things done – in America.

This is not a small thing, and it relates directly to why we – who live today – rise and call ourselves proud patriots, and should be “extremely proud” of who we are. Think Valley Forge and Yorktown, Ticonderoga, Cowpens, Lexington and Concord. Think Revere and Washington, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe, Nathanial Greene, Anthony Wayne and Betsy Ross.

Wind the clock ahead and think of people and courage in the Civil War, what drove and lifted Lincoln, Grant at Vicksburg, Chamberlain at Gettysburg, Harriet Tubman and the “underground railroad,” but also the tenacity, inner conflict and personal courage of General Lee, whose home was confiscated to create Arlington National Cemetery. Think about what America has survived, the resilience of our people as well as the union.

Jump ahead again and think, if time allows, about the Armistice signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day or the 11th month – one hundred years ago this year – to end World War One. That horrific war would not have ended the way it did, without selfless Americans rising, against their disposition for war, to fight, die and help bring it to a close.

In World War One, four million Americans mobilized to save Europe, more than 116,000 died and more than 200,000 came home wounded.

Again, in World War II, as humanity frayed, the Earth shook, and Europe and the Far East trembled with the real specter of evil prevailing, Nazi domination of Western civilization and ruthless Japanese imperialism dominating free peoples, American kids – because that is really what they were at age 16 and up – rose again with that indescribable attribute of can-do, must-do and mission completion, to end that war.

Think places like Normandy, Anzio and Monte Cassino. Think of Americans at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Battles of the Bulge, Britain, Coral Sea, Luzon, Midway, and Berlin. Think about the Doolittle Raiders who flew their suicide mission for America and freedom, after Pearl Harbor.

In short, at home and abroad, in peace and at war, there has always been a unique blend in America and Americans, from the Founders and freedom fighters of yore to recent heroes, of deep idealism and practical can-do.

We are a people of good will and unbreakable spirit, who hope and believe in who we are. That, in the end, is the magic and meaning of American patriotism. We are painfully real about each day, and unapologetically persistent in pursuit of what others deem unrealistic dreams – only we have made those dreams real, again and again. And in this, there is much to be proud of.

There was something about our culture, commitment to each other that was unique, intriguing, self-correcting and truly “great” – partly our willingness to embrace the “uncomfortable face to face” to resolve problems, partly our unstoppable can-do approach to life, and partly idealism made real.

As the French Alexis de Tocqueville observed at one point, almost whimsically: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” Our patriotism is rooted in believing not that we are omniscient or omnipotent, but that anything is possible, because we have – from the beginning through World Wars I and II to now – made it so.

Wrote Lincoln: “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Surely, Lincoln was right. And surely we are right to believe, with all our hearts, in the greatness of this wonderful, good and unquestionably blessed nation. We Americans are a lucky, plucky lot. May we always stay that way.

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Ed M
3 years ago

What a great article to many it is a reminder of where we have been and what makes us great. Unfortunately, the audience is like a group of people sitting around a kitchen table reminiscing about the past. The true audience should be all the Millennial’s and Generation X’ers that cannot fathom what made America great and how we got here. They are the ones that must understand the past so in November they can cast a vote to continue our chosen path. So please forward this article not only to our friends and buddies but the people younger than us that need to understand the meaning of a Great America. God Bless America

3 years ago

Happy Independence Day to all fellow Americans! There are so many stories throughout our history that point to the sacrifices made by those fighting for our freedom. These are men and women who lost everything for the cause—their farms, their homes, their livelihoods, their lives.
As others have said, we must continually work to uphold those freedoms, or they could be gone in a flash….or in one election cycle. Come November, you know what to do!

3 years ago
Reply to  Kim

wonderfully said. This message should be read by every citizen – perhaps if they think about it they will do the RIGHT thing in November. They won’t hear this from mainstream media.

3 years ago
Reply to  keith

Thanks, keith-
Every time an election comes up, my 90+ year old mother says, “Why bother? I’m just one person.”
And I tell her it matters, and I trundle her along…literally, her and her Rollator!

3 years ago

Some of you have written that America is still the greatest country on earth. Unfortunately, the statistics show that it is no longer the case. I love our country very much, as do you, however, if we are to be the best country on earth once again, we all must do much, much more than to make statements that are no longer factual. We all must know why America is fading, who our domestic enemies are that have caused this downslide and what we can and MUST be willing to do to make our nation great again. The Socialist left wingers (democrats) have infested our schools who turn out left wing journalists who then poison the minds of all who watch their twisted and manipulative “reports”. I will spare you the examples because I think we AMAC members know that BUT we must get the poisoned minds to understand that and to be willing to join us. Remember what it took to birth this nation and think about what you can do to stand and fight against our domestic enemies before we no longer exist. “Progressives” progressively take our country down. If we do not win the mid term elections in landslide, we will not be able to enact the legislation we MUST HAVE in order save our country. If you know conservatives that don’t vote tell them how badly WE ALL NEED THEM to HELP save our country by voting. And remember..there is no such thing as a conservative democrat because their party leaders will not let them vote conservatively!!!

3 years ago
Reply to  Wingleader69

Very well said and all completely accurate. We must also not stop at simply concentrating our efforts on existing conservatives we know. We have to be willing to also reach out to the young, freshly indoctrinated Progressives, who ONLY know the leftist propaganda that has been drilled into their heads by our leftist dominated public school system. These “snowflakes”, whether we want to admit it or not, will soon numerically outnumber us in the voting booth in the next 5 to 8 years. So every young skull full of useless, leftist mush that we can open their eyes to the reality of what socialism really delivers, the more conservative votes we end up with.

We need to re-educate as many of these mis-informed young as we can, by teaching them what the practical realities of how socialism really works and compare and contrast that with what a free, open society based on our constitutional principles and free market capitalism (not the crony capitalism so much of Washington establishment endorses) can and does provide for people. Use practical, real world examples. No preaching about “the good old days”. If you can make it relatable to them, at least some will listen and question the nonsense they have been taught.

The point is we have to actively take ACTION to grow our constitutionally conservative ranks. Sitting behind a keyboard or only chatting to the same group of friends over and over isn’t going to yield better outcomes. Throwing up our hands and saying “Nothing can be done, so why bother” is just being defeatist and yielding the field to the socialist side of the argument. That is what the left wants us to do, so they are the only voice being heard by the young. We ALL have to be willing to make a real effort to push back against the tide of socialism being promoted by the Democrat Party and the vast majority of the mainstream media or it will consume this country as it has so many others. Our nation stands only as long as the majority of its citizens are willing to ACTIVELY stand up for the principles upon which it was founded.

3 years ago

And today I read an account of Americans donating the greatest annual amount ever to charitable orgs. in 2017. $400 billion dollars! We are a great nation full of a willingness to share our wealth and blessings.

3 years ago

God Bless America. This is the best country in the world. My parents were legal immigrants in the early 20 century and instilled in my brothers and me how lucky we were to be born in America. When we reached voting age, 21, Papa would nag us to go and vote. And we did. Diana, I just read your column and loved it. Thanks.

Diana Erbio
3 years ago
Reply to  Angela

Happy Independence Day, Angela! I agree we are lucky to be Americans! We must spread the word to the next generations about the value of individualism and freedom.

Julian Lemaster
3 years ago
Reply to  Angela

Fake news, progressive university teachers, and George Soros are doing more to ruin this country than the conservatives are effectively combatting. Read Daniel & Revelation in the Bible and it describes exactly what is happening in these last days of earths’ history.

Paul W
3 years ago

Despite the incredible deterioration of civility, morality and patriotism, this is still the greatest country on earth. While the left does everything that it possibly can to tear it down, we have to continue to do everything that we possibly can to keep America from becoming what the left claims that it already is. God Bless and Happy Independence Day!

S S Meier
3 years ago

America was built upon our CHRISTIAN belief. We had God’s loving care and Prayer. How do we appreciate God’s help to our forefathers, our fair and honest Constitution and Bill of Rights, the many who fought for our freedom? We remove prayer and Bible reading from our schools, Chaplains cannot discuss Jesus Christ. Soldiers cannot have Bible study. NOW, we have drugs, mass shootings, terrorist fear, a dishonest government, and a “ME, ME’ generation. I pray everyday that God will make America a Christian nation again. Thank you.

Anna Maria Williamson.
3 years ago
Reply to  S S Meier

Amen ??.

Diana Erbio
3 years ago

This Independence Day, let’s remember that freedom isn’t free. Those that signed the Declaration of Independence knew it. If you have a chance read my AMAC column “Freedom Isn’t Free” that just posted. Happy Independence Day!

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