By John Shinal
With Thanksgiving nigh — here are five things all Americans can be thankful for:
1. We don’t fear terror at the hands of our own government
We’ve had the good fortune to be born in, or the good sense to emigrate to, a country with a long-established and stable record of peaceful democracy within our borders. While you can argue over whether there has been a corporate takeover of America, due to lobbyist money that influences elected officials, it’s inarguable that we’ve never had a military takeover of the civilian government in the United States. Good thing the late Alexander Haig Jr., a former Army general, was only secretary of state when he declared himself in charge after President Reagan was shot in 1981.
Political protest, including civil disobedience, is healthy for society — especially during unjust economic times — because it provides an outlet for revolutionary impulses. Let’s cherish the fact that Americans can stage a political protest, whether by marching in the streets or, in certain places like my home city of San Francisco, actually camp in them, without the fear of being mowed down by military or police action.
The U.S. government has the capacity to make your life a legal or economic nightmare, no question. But it doesn’t routinely disappear its own citizens in the middle of the night and leave them in prison to rot, or worse. The same thing can’t be said for the people of a great many nations on this planet, including more than a billion human beings in Russia and China.
2. Still the best melting pot
Despite many horrific missteps, the country is today largely devoid of racial, ethnic or religious violence. Yes, there is still racism and bigotry in America, and there are still victims of hate crimes, but it’s not pervasive nor as bad as it used to be, from my observation point, and with apologies to Native Americans and the descendants of slaves.
The best description I’ve ever heard of this strength of America, this ability to welcome and assimilate disparate races, cultures, religions and political beliefs into a single society, came from someone much wiser and better traveled than me, the Bay Area’s own guitarist extraordinaire, Carlos Santana.
At a concert I attended in the 1980s in San Antonio, Texas, Santana, after looking out at the multicultural crowd, uttered words to this effect: “We just came back from playing overseas. We played for Japanese in Tokyo, Russians in Moscow and Germans in Berlin. Now we’re back in the U.S., where we can play for the entire world.”
Do you remember the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, where Serbs and Croats and Bosnians were killing other people on a massive scale just because they were unlike each other? That type of violence plays out on a daily basis across much of the world, but not since the Civil War ended in April 1865 has the U.S. seen widespread sectarian violence, despite our myriad racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Viva la melting pot!
3. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson for president
We live in a country with a really, really good founding political document. Personal failings aside, the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution did one hell of a job of creating a stable political system. Parliamentary governments may be more robust democracies, as anyone who watches the British House of Commons debate on C-Span can tell you, but they are also less stable than our system.
Whether our current group of political leaders is up to the task of leading our nation out of the current financial crisis is an open question, but they have a better shot at it than do the leaders of Italy, Greece and other countries where governments routinely fall during times of crisis. So a hat tip, please, to executive and legislative branches sharing power for a fixed number of years, and a judicial branch filled with judges-for-life who can check them both.
You rocked, Thomas Jefferson!
4. Still the hub of innovation
Every week, I talk to several start-up executives among my rounds of interviews. Many of them, a good many, are recent immigrants who, when they hit upon a product idea worthy (in their eyes, at least) of founding a company on, came to this country to pursue their economic dream. America is a land of great second acts.
These people come here because the U.S. is a place that encourages innovators and entrepreneurs, where they can get funded and nurtured. As Mikkel Svane, a recent immigrant from Denmark and CEO of Zendesk Inc., told me earlier this year, no other country has as robust an ecosystem (namely, the venture capital/private equity industry) designed specifically to help encourage and fund new businesses.
Yes, this country has a lot of challenges to its system of higher education (not to mention K-12). And China and India are rapidly closing the innovation gap with us, thanks to the millions of engineers they graduate every year. But until we really screw up the place, the U.S. is where the brightest want to come.
5. Love is all you need
Be thankful for the love of the people in your life. What wealth do we have, really, in the absence of the support, companionship, and joy we possess while in the company of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers? Don’t get me wrong: A lot of people grow up in the middle of a horror show. But by and large, whether the times are good or tough, Americans are mostly generous to each other.
Enjoy the holiday.
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