“I think America has come further in giving opportunity to the best that’s in human nature than any other country ever in history, and we seem to be holding on for over 200 years already. We’ve greatly improved the inequalities and the shortcomings of our way of life as we’ve moved forward.” He didn’t end there. “One of the things I feel is that we are a country of good people. We are a country of well-meaning, hard-working, conscientious people — 90% of us. And we are blessed with progress in a number of fields today, the likes of which no people on Earth have ever enjoyed in all of history.” He pointed to progress in medicine, in the opportunity for education, and in the quest for equality itself. America is a can-do nation, and as long as we educate our children in the nation’s stories, “I am optimistic,” said he.
The key is to educate our children in the nation’s stories. Martin Luther King Jr. knew them and loved them, and it made him a powerful agent for change. “History is an antidote to the hubris of the present. History should be a lesson that produces immense gratitude for all those who went before us." When McCullough points out that “there are still more public libraries in this country than Starbucks,” he affirms his fundamental optimism about the American experiment.
We still have lots to be optimistic about. In the past three weeks my husband and I have been traveling by car up and down the east coast – “all come to look for America.” If you travel from Anne Hutchinson’s Portsmouth, Rhode Island to the Founders’ Philadelphia to the Wright Brothers’ Kitty Hawk, then on to guess who’s Jacksonville, and come back through George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, you’ll be mightily impressed too. Of course, you’ll be impressed by the stories of all those titans of the American past, but not incidentally by the people you meet working in each location in each city each day.
Americans of all races, genders, and ethnicities are ploughing ahead (like Washington at Mount Vernon) with pretty good humor. They’re keeping their heads down as we close out this pandemic, and they’re fed up with restrictions. But everywhere you go, one meets hard-working, conscientious, decent, and fundamentally positive people, who truly live out the ideals of liberty and justice for all.
The African American manager at the Hampton Inn in Alexandria, Virginia—when I told him I was from Rhode Island—pointed out to my delight that we were practically family because his aunt was from Rhode Island too, and wasn’t it great that Viola Davis got her start there? I practically hugged him. (But then again, there was an acrylic placard between us.) Still, our nation’s Home Away from Home (the Hampton Inn in Asheville NC), neatly sums up the national creed on the placard in its halls: “Today is going to be amazing!” Ya gotta love it.
Go ahead and teach the kids: love your country. Do something for your country.
Mary Beth Klee
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