June 29, 2021

Happy Birthday America

By Gerard Baker, Published in The Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2021 . Republished here to express my gratitude for the privilege of being a citizen of the United States of America.

This July Fourth, that sacred day when we commemorate the hijacking of the American continent by a gang of white supremacists in a desperate bid to hold onto their slaves, I have a question for progressives: What do you want this country to be?

I understand the many frustrations with its flaws. We all have those. I understand anger at the myriad inequalities and injustices. The work of progress is never even close to complete.

But is there anything that would actually make them love this country? Do they understand why so many people—not only in America—admire it?

Ben Rhodes, a former Obama White House official, captures in a new book, “After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made,” the progressive’s lament on glimpsing a familiar American flag these last few years. “I’d look at the flag that once stirred such emotion in me and feel absolutely nothing,” he writes.

Perhaps in Mr. Rhodes’s case, like Michelle Obama’s , we’ve reached the point where you can be proud of your country only when your boss or someone in your immediate family is running it. That doesn’t sound like America to me. It sounds more like a hereditary tyranny.

But what about all those others who seem to despise everything this country stands for even now that the people they like are in charge, like most of our academics, the staff who run HR departments for big American companies, the prime-time hosts on CNN? I wonder in particular what sort of country they imagine would be better than this.

Last weekend Gwen Berry, an African-American athlete, qualified to represent her country at next month’s Olympics. When the national anthem was played, she turned away and covered her head with a T-shirt.

Imagine if a Chinese athlete did that—maybe raised a fist in defiance and then went to a press conference and demanded that the government stop oppressing Uyghurs or threatening Taiwan. Unless they have hammer-throwing competitions at re-education camps, it would be the last medal ceremony that athlete ever took part in.

That’s true not only of communist China. In most countries in the world, if a talented athlete had been trained, developed and selected from thousands to represent the nation, then went and publicly trashed it all, the public opprobrium would be unrelenting.

In America, you disrespect the institutions of your country, and you get lionized by the media. You take a knee or turn away from the flag or refuse to take the field or the court while the national anthem is played, and you get nodding assent from the authorities who control the sport. You can denounce what your country stands for and get elected to Congress.

That’s fine. It’s all part of the strange, perhaps ultimately unsustainable, contradiction of living in a genuinely free society. But can we at least acknowledge that it is an extraordinary privilege?

This failure to understand American greatness lies at the heart of a delightful paradox in the progressives’ approach to immigration.

Does it occur to them that the main reason the U.S. has a persistent immigration crisis isn’t that nativist Americans want to keep people out? It’s that people keep trying to get in. That’s the thing about an open border. People can go both ways, but they never do, do they?

If the world had no borders, where do progressives think the world would choose to live? Polling has consistently shown that, if they could, by overwhelming margins people from all over the world would choose to come here.

Blacks from Africa, Latinos from Central and South America and Asians from Kamchatka to Kerala are yearning to live in the country we are told is defined by white privilege, xenophobia and ruthless oppression of minorities.

Think of that. What kind of enduring appeal must a country have, what kind of values must it convey to the world that it can so easily supersede the strenuous efforts of its own people to defame it?

Progressives are playing a self-defeating game with immigration. They seem to think that when the migrants get here, they’ll swallow the education system’s prevailing propaganda and hate the country. It doesn’t work like that. Like me, people will come here and feel above all an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what this country has given them.

So go ahead, enjoy your freedom to turn away from the flag, to denounce what it stands for. But could you maybe also just acknowledge for a moment how precious that freedom is? Perhaps take one day a year to reflect that despite your own antipathy, for nearly 250 years people have been proud to call this country home.

The Fourth of July seems like a good day to remember what was really achieved back then—and how astonishingly enduring it has proved.

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