In his insightful and provocative book “The Vanishing American Adult,” Sen. Ben Sasse reminds us that America is the only country ever founded on an idea rather than on a long-standing ethnic or cultural heritage. The founders of our country deliberately based the U.S. Constitution on the ideas of individual freedom, universal equality and the rule of law.
We take these notions for granted today, and unfortunately this fact is what has placed our country at risk.
Since the beginning, the idea has been challenged and threatened from both the outside and the inside. People took the motto on the Statue of Liberty, “Give us your tired, huddled masses” seriously when they came here from every corner of the globe, and we have had to struggle to make it a reality – and we are still struggling.
From the beginning the Irish, Greek and Jewish immigrants had to fight their way into our commitment to radical equality. They were viewed as “outsiders” and persecuted as such. The Mexicans and American Indians, who were here before Anglos, are still having the same fight. African-Americans also must continue to struggle to find their way into full cultural citizenship. In recent days, immigrants from Arab countries and Africa, including those of Muslim faith, are once again testing the reality of the American dream.
These challenges have and are putting the American experiment to the test. The question we face is whether it is it possible to create and maintain a nation of mixed racial and cultural backgrounds without tearing ourselves to pieces. One, if not the crucial, cause of our contemporary “dis-ease” in America is that we have forgot and failed to stand by the radical notion that all people are equal and deserving of the opportunity to be treated as such.
Another way to put this is to point out that for various reasons we have failed to develop and stress the role of real education in keeping our basic commitments clearly before us.
As a nation, too many of us have neglected the importance of an educated populace. America finishes far from the top on nearly every international educational test. In brief, we consistently fail to put our money where our mouth is.
This “idea” of a constitutionally based nation that unites us is not a visible thing like color or gender, so it needs to be articulated concretely in our daily lives so as to become an actual reality. We need to avoid demonstrations and rhetoric that divide us and keep us from embodying our commitment to its implications.
Our national commitment, both as a people and as a government, to educating ourselves concerning our fundamental values and history is sorely lacking. It is high time we pledge together to refocus our belief in universal equality and liberty, as well as to being a people that is willing to give top priority to re-educating ourselves concerning the basis of our grand experiment as a nation of immigrants.