One of cable television’s new and more popular programs is a show called “The Newsroom.” In one recent and much-talked-about scene, a popular national news anchor sits on a university stage talking about American politics and is asked by a student to describe why America is the greatest nation in the world. The reluctant news anchor tries to dodge the question politely and then, when pushed, responds that actually America isn’t the great nation in the world.
He rattles off all sorts of statistics that place the United States in the middle of the pack, adds sarcastically that Americans do lead the world in the belief that angels exist and then reminisces sentimentally about decades past when America was truly great – most of his memories tied to the 1960s and the Great Society. That’s the liberal view of America: a warped sentimentality and idealism about how government alone offers temporal salvation.
With the Fourth of July upon us, I thought I’d share with you why I feel America is the greatest nation on earth.
First, America’s form of representative government is based on the idea that freedom requires citizens to be their better selves, especially our elected representatives. Our Founders were not lovers of pure democracy; they were largely enlightened and moral aristocrats who weren’t about to allow a mob of idiots to decide the future of freedom. That’s why the greatest nation on earth was formally established by only 56 people.
Second, America’s Founders understood the difference between liberty and freedom. When France was burning to the ground and the guillotines were slathered in the blood of religious people and the ruling classes, all in the name of liberty, our Founders were reinforcing the wisdom of the ages eventually expressed in the song “America the Beautiful”:
“Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.”
American exceptionalism is grounded in the confidence that every competent human being has the ability to learn right and wrong and is expected to know it. That’s what we mean by “rule of law.” We don’t punch a stranger in the face because it would violate his civil rights; we don’t do it because it’s wrong to harm an innocent person. His civil rights don’t make him free, our choice to do what’s right makes him free.
And, third, America is the greatest nation on earth because it remains the most Christian nation on earth – meaning a nation where Christian principles remain integrated into our culture. Europe abandoned its Christian culture long ago. Other religious areas of the world that can still be called free are well into separating religious principles from popular culture. But not in America; not yet anyway, and certainly not in Utah. Americans by and large still know that virtuous hearts are more important than great minds and that great minds only matter when they’re also grounded in goodness.
We’re still the only nation on earth that expresses disdain for materialism but is clearly materialistic; the only nation that expresses hatred for war and yet finds itself in one after another; the only nation that rejoices in the miracle of life and also kills millions of babies through abortion every year. This irony isn’t new. Our Founders wrote that all men are created equal and never did anything about slavery.
The cynics of liberalism, like that fictional news anchor we cheer on, call these ironies “hypocrisy.” I call it America, the greatest nation on earth, where we still actually argue about these ironies of life – its beauty and its savagery – a place where most of us still choose life’s beauty because that’s what good and decent (and free) people do. We still have moral imagination and can do something about it. No other nation on earth can say the same thing. That’s what makes us the greatest.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.