What it means to be an American

  • To belong to the only nation in the history of the world whose heroes have all championed either liberty, equality or human rights, and which does not hold up any tyrants or autocrats as originators of its national identity.
  • To belong to the only nation-state in the world into which someone who was NOT an American one month ago can legitimately be assimilated–and even become the definitive American–in a matter of days (i.e. you can’t tell me that any Turkish worker ever really gets to be considered German, while an Indian who naturalizes in NY on Tuesday can be a real and, in some senses, typical, American by Friday).
  • To understand the objective reality that, however beautiful soccer is (as a sport that transcends sport), American football is the most sophisticated game on the planet, with more subtlety, more variation, and more strategic quality.
  • To know that there really are no characteristics that bind all Americans from Long Island, through Topeka, to Seattle and that this lack of shared defining characteristics is itself a defining characteristic.
  • To understand that we do not live in a universe in which all conflicts can be resolved, all wrongs righted, all injustices prevented with endless dialogue and to know that some irrational actors cannot be swayed by the wishfulness of Habermasian institutionalism.
  • To be emancipated, for both good and bad as a nation and as individuals, from the weight of history.
  • To have, for both good and bad, a short collective memory (good in that we helped rebuild the homes of bitter enemies in Japan and Germany, bad in that we thought that the Shiite population of Iraq would have forgotten, by 2003, how we screwed them in 1991).
  • To appreciate the vastness of space (both lateral and vertical) and to believe (for good and bad) that new things can be created there. But to also possess an ingrained belief in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, that some spaces are best left untouched.
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