Random Thoughts: Trying to live up to our potential

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From the July 2, 2020, print edition

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.

– Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

These words are intertwined into the fabric of the United States of America. In one sentence, the signers of the Declaration of Independence embodied the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans at the time and hundreds of millions since then.

Those truths – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – have guided our country for 244 years. That is more years than the United States has actually been a country.

Those ideals have made America a model for the rest of the world. The promise of America has driven millions of people to uproot themselves and come here for new lives and better opportunities. At first, that immigration came from western Europe. Over time, that immigration moved to northern, central, southern and eastern parts of Europe. Asian immigration came next. Today’s headlines focus on the people coming here from nations to our south.

The things that led to my ancestors to depart Germany and Bohemia in the late 1800s are the same things that draw people today from Mexico, El Salvador and other places.

That said, the reality of America has often failed to live up to the promise of America.

In 1776, the idea that all men are created equal was literally just that – men. And not all men, actually, as it really just applied to wealthy white men with land. Black men – and women – represented the first waves of African immigration, both under British rule and in the newly free United States. It is a terrible irony that millions of Africans came to the this newly-free country chained up in the cargo holds of ships to be bought and sold as property.

The decimation of native populations, the Chinese exclusion act, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II – all of these things are stains on the history of our country and contrary to the idea that all men are created equal.

Jim Crow laws and segregation went away, but the hatred behind those things are still with us. Today’s headlines show us that. Systemic racism is still a thing and if you don’t believe that, then you are lying to yourself.

“All men are created equal.” Is it all men (and women), or just the ones who are Americans? How do we as individuals really feel about people of different colors and ethnicities, of different political stripes, of different incomes and educations and jobs, of different religions, or from different nations?

Here’s the thing…I love this country. You can love something or someone and still expect them to do better. We do it with our children as we raise them. We work hard to make sure they know they are loved, but we set the bar high so that they may reach their full potential.

And we can do that with the United States of America. We can see all the good things and all the promise while pointing out our flaws and striving to be better. Love and blind adoration are not the same.

As we approach our Independence Day, let us celebrate all the good of America while simultaneously striving to be an even better version of ourselves.

I can’t think of anything more American than that.