At the Republican National Convention last week, John McCain said:
I trust Mitt Romney to know that good can triumph over evil, that justice can vanquish tyranny, that love can conquer hate, that the desire for freedom is eternal and universal, and that America is still the best hope of mankind.
As I watched the speech live on television, I cringed every time Senator McCain used one of those oversimplified buzz-terms that make Americans look so foolish: “good can triumph over evil”, “justice can vanquish tyranny”, “love can conquer hate”. But best hope for mankind? Man, that is over the top.
My family moved to the United States when I was at the tender and impressionable age of 10. I attended middle school, where we learned American History, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, how all men are created equal and how we all have the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I learned and believed that America could do no wrong, that we were the best country in the world. I would have wholeheartedly agreed if you told me back then that America is still the best hope of mankind.
Then, September 11 happened. Or, to be more accurate, the aftermath of September 11 happened. I cheered when we sent troops to Afghanistan to hunt bin Laden. We were going to get him. It was going to be an in-and-out operation. I defended my country when people I knew attacked the United States and its policies, telling me how much they hated the country. I thought they were hypocrites to be living in a country they hated.
Things began to change when I was told “you’re either with us or you’re against us”, when not supporting an attack on another sovereign country became “unpatriotic”, when Sikhs in turbans were mistaken for Muslims and attacked with no rebuke from the government, when enemy combatants were held indefinitely and tortured at Guantanamo Bay. I wondered what happened to those values that we supposedly held so dear. Did they only apply when we wanted them to apply? Perhaps, after all, those people I had defended against weren’t the only hypocrites.
I don’t know why it took so long for me to see the hypocrisy. It wasn’t like I hadn’t learned of the eradication of Native Americans, Manifest Destiny, slavery, or women’s suffrage (or the lack thereof). Maybe it is because the notion of a society based on the Founding Fathers’ ideals is so appealing that it’s easy to overlook the warts in our history. Or, maybe I just grew up and realized that there is no such thing as a masterpiece society.
There is no doubt that America is a great country. People still want to move to America in droves. Where America could use some help, however, is in how it tells other people what to do and then doesn’t follow through itself. Not leading by example. Do as I say, not as I do. When other countries and cultures, some of which have been around for thousands of years, hears an American telling them that 200-something year-old America is still the best hope of mankind while America is still mired in so many problems of its own, it is understandable if they do not listen. I’d even forgive them if they laughed at us.
At the end of the day, we are all citizens of Earth and we are all in it together. This has never been truer. In the past century, technology has made the world much smaller. Sovereign states are no longer as sovereign as they once were. No longer limited to just goods, information and ideas also flow across borders; if the information or idea is sound, no one needs to be told to adopt it. And if we really are the best hope of mankind, then we can do it with a little less arrogance and a lot more humility.