The opinions stated in this column are solely those of the author and not of The Davis Clipper.
A reader recently posed a question to me in her letter: “A number of Americans, extreme conservatives and extreme leftists, seem to hate America. I like your balanced approach. What is your vision of the United States?”
Since I’m not an essayist or an historian or a philosopher, I had no ready answer. Weighty questions are above my pay grade.
Then I found an answer in the latest edition of the Smithsonian magazine. A 30-year old Bhutan refugee had arrived in New Hampshire with few employable skills and little knowledge of English. Several years later, he had finished a degree program as a surgical technician and had saved $16,000 to buy a future home of his own.
“USA stands for U Start Again,” he told a reporter.
That’s it Р the chance to improve yourself, to fail and bounce back. It was the impetus for the country’s founders who left the economic caste system of the Old World for a chance in a new one.
It still occurs today, a chance to reinvent yourself. As Matt Weiner, the creator of TV’s Mad Men, said to a Time magazine interviewer, “America is freshman year in college for every new immigrant.”
Some, like Sam Walton and Bill Clinton, came from rural poverty and shaped a new self. Others, like Warren Buffet and Bob Dylan, molded themselves from middle-class upbringings. Some (Bill Gates) crafted an even higher mountain from an already well-educated and privileged perch.
This so-called freedom to succeed has a partner; our government. The “U Start Again” mentality is supported by government aid in funding infrastructure, creating a safety net for families, and pumping dollars into medical research and higher education.
President Obama was criticized for his defense of the government in his “You didn’t build it” campaign speech, but the thread of this argument was correct. Risk-takers often benefit from government subsidies to colleges, federal mortgage and education loans, and, thanks to the Federal Reserve System, a stable currency and access to investment capital.
My vision of America is a country that offers the opportunity to fall flat on your face but doesn’t step on you to prevent you from picking yourself up (maybe even with some government help), placing a bandage on the wound, and trying again. Americans understand probability, but revere possibility as well.
The only thing that can derail this vision are extremists who place fear in front of opportunity. When the Bhutan refugees were relocated to New Hampshire, the Smithsonian reported there were many angry letters about foreign “freeloaders.” One wrote, “If YOU are a taxpaying PRODUCTIVE citizen, then YOU are getting (expletive) by these bleeding heart leeches.”
The vast majority of on-line comments echoed a similar sentiment. Yet statistics showed that three years after the refugee settlement, the Bhutanese were less likely to be on welfare than the locals as a whole and their children were graduating from high school at a far higher rate than the native-born population.
The USA will continue to be “U Start Again” nation Р unless the pathetic jerk extremists take the upper hand. They are noisy and crude, but we can “out shout” them at the ballot box on election day.