December 3, 2020

Does The Rest of The World Need The Spirit of America?

Does The Rest of The World Need The Spirit of America?
A letter to my daughter

Reader: My daughter, Noel Spencer, is away at a special summer program for high school seniors. She is spending five weeks on the campus of Centre College as a “Kentucky Governor’s Scholar.” While visiting her on “Family Day,” we discussed a debate she had participated in on the topic, “Does the rest of the world need the spirit of America?” The debate was divided between those who said the world needs our heritage of freedom, and those who said America is selfish.

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Dear Noel,

It was great to see you on Family Day, and we are very proud of you for being chosen to be part of this prestigious group of high school scholars. I am especially happy that you are getting a feel for what college is really like, and the debate you told me about is a good example. “Does the world need the spirit of America?” What a great question! I’ve thought about it a lot since we talked. I want to share with you some of my thoughts. Perhaps they will cause you to look at the debate a bit differently.

I noticed that Centre, like most colleges these days, is very enthusiastic about diversity and multiculturalism, and that is expected in the postmodern academic environment. There are reminders everywhere that we are a world of many nations. This seems very important, even though it doesn’t appear to me that the school, or your program, is a particularly international community. You said that one of the staff read the United Nations’ “Declaration of Human Rights” to the students, which is certainly an indication of interest in the idea of a world community. I also noticed that many students travel to other nations as part of the college’s program, and that is commendable.

Is there anything wrong with celebrating other cultures, or in working for more of a just and fair world community? Certainly not, as long as the approach is truthful, realistic and helpful. It should be part of a good education to become more aware of the diversity of our world, the historical roots of that diversity and the impact diversity has on our lives. That diversity includes, of course, many things that a thoughtful person must consider carefully. For example, are all cultures equally good? Are the beliefs of all cultures equally true? Does any culture have the right to say that another culture is “wrong” in something that they do?

Here’s an example. When the first English missionaries went to India, it was still the custom for the wife of a deceased man to be burned alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. This custom, which was considered perfectly normal by the Hindus, horrified the Europeans, and the English outlawed the practice. Now some would call this interfering with the culture and imposing values from one culture on another. But I think a thoughtful person would say there is an issue of right and wrong at work here, an issue that goes beyond a respect for customs. Americans have cringed at images of Afghan women being beaten in the streets for talking to a non-related male in public. One person has said some cultures teach us to love our neighbors, while others say you can eat your neighbors. Multi-culturalism has its limits.

So we can celebrate diversity, but we cannot say that all cultures are equal, other than to say that all are sinful in some way, and that all have good aspects of one kind or another. (I have written on this elsewhere.) This is an important point in the debate on “Does the world need the spirit of America?” I would answer “Yes, there are many things about America that the rest of the world needs.” And I would also say there is plenty about America that no one needs, not even Americans!

What are some of those things? Well, there are so many, I hardly know where to start. Americans have freely elected their own government for 226 years. This heritage of democracy and self determination is rare in our world, and I don’t think your fellow students realize that. For example, recently the Arab League, an organization representing all forty two Arab governments in the world, has been meeting and telling America what should happen in the Palestinian conflict. Someone pointed out that only one of these Arab nations has a freely elected government. Most are dictatorships or ruled by militarily backed families. Do I think the world would be better- and the middle east would be better- if all those Arab states had our constitution? Absolutely. Even with the mess in the 2000 Presidential election, no one drew guns and seized power for themselves, but that is an annual occurrence in many countries.  I admire President Bush for saying that his middle east policy hinged on having free elections in Palestine. The spirit of American democracy is needed now more than ever.

America has the greatest opportunities for women and the most compassion on children. Contrast the treatment of women and children in America with Africa or Asia, where everything from clitoral circumcision to child prostitution is still going on while governments look the other way. America has the most amazing free education system on the planet. Not only is public education through grade twelve free, but any American, regardless of income, can go to college, and graduate with a degree. Much of that college bill will be government subsidized or privately funded. Even England doesn’t give the opportunity for college to everyone. Americans are free to choose their careers, free to establish businesses, free to travel and free to associate. Sure, America has its problems with racial issues, but we’ve managed to banish slavery, integrate our society with immigrants from all over the planet and eliminate race as basis for law (except for liberals who want to use racial quotas in hiring and education.)

In fact, the debate you participated in is a good example of what the rest of the world needs. In many countries, such free debate is not possible at all, and any criticism of the government is a reason for imprisonment. In our own hemisphere, freedom of the press is not guaranteed. And what about freedom of religion? In many countries, Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism are the only allowed religions, and differing beliefs are hindered or persecuted. In China, even belonging to an innocent group like Falun Gong is illegal. The rest of the world needs our spirit of freedom of worship and freedom of ideas. With history of protest on many college campuses, you would think it might occur to someone that in other countries Kent State isn’t a rarity, but normal. Look up Tiananmen Square to see what I mean.

Why weren’t these things obvious to your fellow students? Well, the sad fact is that most of those students have been raised in virtual ignorance of these wonderful things about our country. Think about an afternoon watching MTV. Group after group talks about the injustice and misery in America, yet they are using the right of free speech to criticize America. They can make fun of the President without fear, though if the same thing were done in many countries it would be prison for certain. These groups portray America as racist and totalitarian, even though America is the most diverse and freedom loving nation in the world. Walter Williams says these are the merchants of misery, building their carrers on portraying America as racist and totalitarian.

I don’t believe we need to be blind to America’s many faults and flaws, but we can’t be blind to its strengths either. And we certainly cannot be afraid to say that other nations would be better off to have the freedoms and rights we enjoy here. Any view of multiculturalism that says America is no better than thugocracies like Iraq or the states that mistreat and imprison their own citizens simply for speaking or worshipping is inherently blind. Even with our abuse of native Americans, our heritage of slavery and the corruption of many of our institutions, America stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world.

Since you have visited Europe, I thought you would be particularly interested in my response to those Hollywood types who continually say they want to live in Europe because it is so much better than the United States. Since Europe is the closest to us in many of our values, the contrasts are especially interesting.

For instance, Europe takes a massive amount of taxes away from its citizens. Don’t think for a moment that the ability to earn and keep your own money isn’t a wonderful benefit. Even with high taxation in America you still will make and keep far more as an American than as a European. Government regulation is rampant in Europe. (Look at their cars!) Higher education isn’t available to everyone. England still has a state church and France has labeled many Protestants as illegal cults. Anti-Semitism is growing in Europe. Jewish synagogues have been burned in France and the government has little to say. Many European nations are still supporting monarchies, and only granted democratic rights and government after America’s example shamed them into doing so. LOok at the French revolution and compare it to our own American revolution! Europeans (with a few exceptions) regularly oppose us on issues like capital punishment or how to fight terrorism. When Europe gets a war going in its backyard, such as in Bosnia, they expect us to come over and solve it. They blame us for everything, can’t see any problems with an ever-growing government and are highly suspicious of free enterprise without socialistic guidance.

I have no desire for Europe to become like America, but I am darned weary of American celebrities and liberals acting as if America is a police state and Europe is a paradise. History, experience and common sense say otherwise. Europe has a whole set of problems that I won’t explain here, but those who would trade America for Europe should check out what the next fifty years holds for Europe as its populations shrink and its non-assimilated Muslim populations increase.

I also wanted to say a few words about the objection taken by the other side in your debate: that America is selfish.

What catches my attention here isn’t that the objection isn’t true- there is plenty of greed, selfishness and arrogance in America- but how ironic it is that high school and college students would raise that objection. American students enjoy a standard of living that is off the scale compared to other countries. Are these students recognizing their own desire for a $35,000 car and a six figure job as selfishness? Are they recognizing their own high flying lifestyles as part of the problem? Of all the generations America has produced, the current crop of students is the most selfish. Maybe it takes one to know one.

These students might consider that America subsidizes their education all the way through high school. For many of those students, a large portion of their college education is paid for by donors and taxpayers. It is America that gives more foreign aid- both public and private- than any other nation in the world. It is America that has a immigration policy so open that it really is a bit crazy, considering recent events. Yet, we will take in millions of legal and illegal immigrants and pay for their medical expenses out of our own pockets. Americans donate billions of dollars to charities, and donate millions of hours to worthy causes. Organizations like the United Way, the Salvation Army, the Scouts and the Red Cross demonstrate American generosity.

Americans are involved in thousands of community projects from sports leagues to campaigns to eradicate diseases to crusades against illiteracy. Americans have given their sons and daughters to liberate Europe and many other nations. American professionals donate millions of dollars of free services to the poor. Your parents work at one of the thousands of religious institutions that give education and help to people who cannot afford such help, and we do so strictly on the generosity of donors and those who sacrifice to work here. Sure, there are corporate criminals, the idle rich and the powerfully corrupt, but anyone who traveled across our country, looked at our communities and talked with our people would say that Americans, with all their flaws, are still the most generous people on earth. Your mom and I support several causes that help feed people overseas, and our income is considered very modest. We’re typical, at least in my experience.

Perhaps those students don’t know much about America. Their point of view may reflect what they see on television and hear from their insulated media sources. it may be a result of a generation who knows the cast of “Friends,” but doesn’t know the Bill of Rights or what good things are going on in their own communities. Let’s hope that can change/

It has never been popular on the college campus to be pro-American. There is something in the spirit of the young that says you should rebel against your parents and against the status quo. If you were to read this article to most college students, they would respond with a litany of American failures in the area of race, a list of government abuses and corporate swindles. Yet, many of these same young people will soon become the beneficiaries of the best jobs and salaries in our society, and many will jump in with both feet to become part of the system they say is so flawed.

As a Christian, I believe we must see and acknowledge God’s blessings on our country, and at the same time confess our sins and shortcomings. This is the country that counted slaves as 3/5 of a person, and this is the country whose founding documents haunted us until we fought a war to end slavery. We paid the price in blood to extend the promise of America to our own citizens. This is what is great about America. The same freedom that can be abused can also become the opportunity for change. A single person, believing in the promise of our country and unafraid to face its flaws, can still change this nation for the better. I hope you become such a person.

Your mom and I love and miss you. We hope and pray that all goes well for the rest of your summer.

Love always,