Take ‘Amer­ica First’ back to its roots

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - By Frank S. Robin­son ▶

Ci­vil­ity, gen­eros­ity are ideals to fly the flag for

mer­ica First” is a Trump trope loathed by left­ies for whom na­tion­al­ism is a dirty word. John Len­non sang “imag­ine there’s no coun­tries ... noth­ing to kill or die for.” Some dream of “one world” unit­ing all hu­man­ity.

That dream should quickly pall if you imag­ine what a global na­tion’s pol­i­tics and gov­er­nance would be like. I sure wouldn’t want to be­come sub­ject to the world­views of to­day’s Rus­sians, Chi­nese, In­di­ans, and Turks.

But dis­agree­ment about na­tion­al­ism is part of our own cul­tural di­vide. Some say Amer­i­cans have noth­ing to be proud of; our his­tory a litany of crimes, our present a cesspool of racism, in­equal­ity, ex­ploita­tion, op­pres­sion, and cor­rup­tion. That’s epit­o­mized by Howard Zinn’s book, “A Peo­ple’s His­tory of the United States.” It should have been ti­tled “A Cynic’s His­tory.” Zinn con­demned Amer­ica be­cause it was not a per­fect egal­i­tar­ian utopia from Day One, flay­ing ev­ery so­cial ill that ever ex­isted here. With nary a word of recog­ni­tion that any progress was ever achieved on any of it.

Thus some friends ques­tioned why my house flew the flag. But I was in­deed proud to be an Amer­i­can — a sup­port­ive mem­ber of what, despite its flaws, is as good a so­ci­ety as hu­man be­ings had yet suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing. I flew the flag to honor the prin­ci­ples, val­ues, and ideals Amer­ica at its best stood for.

The progress Zinn re­fused to ac­knowl­edge is this na­tion’s cen­tral story. We are im­per­fect be­ings in an im­per­fect world, but strove “to form a more per­fect union.” A so­ci­ety that could and did rise to­ward its high­est ideals.

That is what our na­tion­al­ism should em­body. Not blood-and-soil but good will, ci­vil­ity, gen­eros­ity, courage.

Truth, rea­son, progress, and jus­tice un­der rule of law. All peo­ple are cre­ated equal, en­dowed with in­alien­able rights: to life, lib­erty, and pur­suit of hap­pi­ness. E pluribus unum — out of many, one.

I once stood on a cor­ner, passed by a Mus­lim woman in a head­scarf, then a black man, a tur­baned Sikh, an His­panic, an In­dian lady in a sari, a Chi­nese girl, and, yes, a Cau­casian too. This was in Westch­ester. No­body bat­ted an eye. This is Amer­ica. E pluribus unum. A place where all peo­ple can make homes, be wel­comed, and thrive. This is hu­man­ity tran­scend­ing its bound­aries and lim­its.

Our Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was truly revo­lu­tion­ary when, as Rousseau put it, mankind was “every­where in chains.” We lit a bea­con light in the dark­ness, guid­ing count­less mil­lions of oth­ers to lib­er­a­tion. And as Amer­ica grew more pros­per­ous and pow­er­ful (thanks to its ideals), we took on an ever greater role as the van­guard of global ef­forts to ex­pand free­dom and pros­per­ity and re­sist the forces that would hold peo­ple down. That U.S. world lead­er­ship has been noble. But also, it rec­og­nized that other coun­tries be­ing more demo­cratic, and richer — and the re­sult­ing peace — are good for Amer­ica it­self.

These then are the val­ues and ideals that make Amer­ica great, and make for an Amer­i­can na­tion­al­ism worth hold­ing to. A na­tion­al­ism not of eth­nic­ity but of prin­ci­ples. Alas, the us-again­st­them “Amer­ica First” na­tion­al­ism strut­ting to­day is the an­tithe­sis of those val­ues and ideals. Their evil twin, throw­ing them un­der the bus.

That is why, on Novem­ber 9, 2016, I furled my flag. I look for­ward to — I burn for — the day when I can fly it once more.

I once stood on a cor­ner, passed by a Mus­lim woman in a head­scarf, then a black man, a tur­baned Sikh, an His­panic, an In­dian lady in a sari, a Chi­nese girl, and, yes, a Cau­casian too. This was in Westch­ester. No­body bat­ted an eye. This is Amer­ica. E pluribus unum. A place where all peo­ple can make homes, be wel­comed, and thrive. This is hu­man­ity tran­scend­ing its bound­aries and lim­its.

Frank S. Robin­son of Al­bany is au­thor of “The Case for Ra­tio­nal Op­ti­mism.”

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