Ask the Immigrants

On this Fourth of July, the 209th birthday of our nation, Americans have much to be proud of. We live in the freest, most compassionate, most democratic, most just and most idealistic country in the history of the world. We think of ourselves as basically good people. But somehow the American Century appears tarnished. Our citizens are victims of terrorism in Central America and in the Middle East, where we are denounced as "The Great Satan." At dinner the other night a friend said, "We must think about why the whole world hates us."

Does the whole world hate us? Not to judge by the unending flood of immigrants who continue to come here, legally and illegally, in record numbers in search of a better life for themselves and their children. And we welcome them. Every year more people immigrate to the United States than to all the rest of the countries of the world combined. They come from many different cultures, speak many different languages and have many different faiths, but they share the same dream of freedom and well-being that has drawn people here for nearly five centuries. Many more would come if they could, and we are refurbishing the Statue of Liberty that beckons them.

This blessed and beautiful continent has given birth to some of the most eloquent statements of human and social values. While not perfect, we practice what we preach:

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." And to that end 56 citizens pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on that July 4, 1776, signing the Declaration of Independence.

Once a year is not too often to reread those words, which have become the secular faith that binds all Americans. We remind ourselves of the great ideas that took root here as nowhere else, and of the unshakable political and economic systems that they nurtured, creating a pluralistic society that has benefited millions and become the envy of billions more.

We have learned that we cannot easily export our ideals, and that other people have different aspirations from our own. But we will gladly measure our results against any others.

Even when provoked we are restrained in response. We have military might, but we are loath to use it. We value life, and we value freedom. It is unfortunate that parts of the world don't share those values, but we don't despise them for their beliefs. We have faith that the course of history is upward, that societies improve themselves and that in time things will get better.

As we have seen and continue to see, blind patriotism is dangerous, but equally dangerous is the failure to recognize what the United States of America has brought forth and given to the world. Once a year we can pat ourselves on the back and honestly say that, by any measure, this country is the greatest in the world. Just ask the newly arrived immigrants whom we see all around us.

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