Submitted by Ryan Fazio
A friend of mine who immigrated to the US from one of the poorest countries in the world joked to me recently, “Do you know why I love the US? Toilet.” He laughs easily. He grew up without one. His family didn’t have electricity until he was a teenager.
At the age of 7, my Polish step-grandfather and his family were taken by night by Stalin’s thugs to the Siberian labor camps (Gulags) after the Soviets and Nazis partitioned the country in 1939, simply because his father was a mid-level military officer in Poland. That’s class guilt. Over six years with his family in the prison camps, he saw—and smelled—hundreds of people drop dead from starvation, exhaustion, and disease around him. Somehow he made it out alive. Tens of millions of Soviet subjects never did.
One of my Czech professors who grew up under a communist police state used to preach to his American students studying in Prague, “Yours is the country of individual rights. You should be proud of what it has given the world.” Today, he and his countrymen enjoy prosperity and freedom under the Pax Americana.
Why do we—the middle class—often think what we have in this country—wealth, freedom, and safety—is normal in the course of human history? Or even in the world today?
244 years ago today, a ragtag army of British subjects separated from a monarchy so that every man could be a king. Three million sorry people in some backwoods living on a few dollars a day in today’s terms, lucky to live into their 30s, blazed a trail for 320 million spanning a continent, of every color and creed, descended from every corner of the earth, living on $180 a day and for 80 years on average. The richest, freest, and most generous nation in the history of the world liberated two continents from fascism, protected the world from communism, and saved tens of millions of lives in the process.
Imperfect? Certainly. Americans have committed vile sins across our history, chief among them slavery and segregation. But, in its founding also lies the seeds of the destruction of those evil institutions. “All men are created equal” could not perpetually coexist with slavery or segregation. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Many brave patriots fought and died to make the “promissory note” closer to whole. It may never get there, because “from the crooked timber of humanity, nothing was ever made straight.” Even so, the character of America is always striving to be “more perfect,” and we must continue to do so today. What separates America in human history is not its sins, but its virtues.
For some reason, fewer Americans than ever report being “extremely proud” of their country: 47 percent in 2018 compared to 58 percent in 2013, according to Gallup. I often wonder of the cynics, what paradise on earth—now or before—would they confidently prefer? If you ask people from around the world, as Gallup also did in 2018, where they would immigrate if they could go anywhere, 158 million answer the US. That’s 3.4 times more than the next most popular destination, Canada. And most of those respondents are from Africa and Latin America. Maybe they, like my friend and step-grandfather, have a perspective worth considering.
It appears most of the diminished pride in our country comes from younger Americans, falling from 55 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2018 among those 18-29. It could be the fault of our education system for not teaching them their history. Only 19 percent of Americans under the age of 45 could pass a citizenship exam, according to a study by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, compared to 74 percent of those above the age of 65. Maybe we should require students in Connecticut to pass a such a test in high school to go along with their civics requirement. Either way, we need to do a better job of preparing younger Americans for citizenship and leadership. After all, “freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.”
As Americans, we are heirs to a great inheritance. We did not earn it. It is a privilege. Few people on this earth have it as good as almost all of us; and an infinitesimal number of people across human history could even imagine it as good. And so, on this day, and every day, a little gratitude is in order for those who left it to us. Let’s honor them by making it even better than we found it.
Happy Independence Day.
Ryan Fazio is a candidate for State Senate.