Many Americans proudly hang the Stars and Stripes on June 14 to celebrate Flag Day. On that day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the emblem under which generations of Americans have lived, fought and died. More than any other flag in the world, it symbolizes freedom and celebrates the optimism of our Founding Fathers.
Yet today we have voices suggesting that America’s best days are behind her. The experiment, they insist, is over.
“The American dream is a myth,” writes Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, in a recent op-ed. A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that nearly six in 10 think that the next generation won’t live better than their parents do today.
Such pessimism, however, is unwarranted. More importantly, it’s counter-productive. Even if things were as bad as some people suggest, there is a solution, as Ed Feulner, president of The Heritage Foundation reminds us in his weekly column:
Negative thoughts like this are nothing new. It stands to reason that tough economic times will breed pessimism. Sometimes, though, we need to remind ourselves of the principles this country was founded on, and reconnect with the genius that created the United States of America, the only country founded not on identity, but on ideas.
Feulner, in fact, has just written a book designed to do just that. Co-authored with Heritage trustee Brian Tracy, “The American Spirit: Celebrating the Virtues and Values That Make Us Great“ is a wake-up call for those who may find themselves discouraged by the challenges we face as a nation at this critical moment in history.
Why would such a book be necessary? As Brian explains in the introduction: “Today, millions of Americans are not clear about why the United States is the greatest country on earth and in all human history.” They know they’re free. But they may have never reflected on why their nation is unique — not only in the world right now, but in human history.
As Feulner writes:
“Consider the phrase ‘the American Dream.’ The words themselves reveal something extraordinary. In all the history of man, there has been only one country with the word ‘dream’ attached to it. There is no French Dream or Russian Dream or Chinese Dream. There is only the American Dream, to which people worldwide aspire and have aspired since our founding. From 194 countries, people have come to America to pursue this dream.
“In America, people care very much who you are. They care little about your background. In America, you can start from anywhere, with or without benefits and advantages from your family, and make your own way and your own life. At any time, you can decide to change and do something completely different. Your life is yours to chart.
“In my opinion, this freedom to define your own destiny ultimately derives from the Judeo-Christian tradition. God created us in His own image, and just as God is free, so we are meant for freedom.”
The question, then, is what the relationship of government should be to man. Is man there to serve the government? No. In America, it is very much the other way around — despite the many attempts by liberals to change that relationship throughout our history.
“Government’s purpose is not to impose some elite-inspired vision of the good society on the rest of us, but to empower men and women to use their God-given freedom as they choose.
“This opportunity has its roots in our extraordinary founding in 1776. Having such freedom is more the exception than the rule throughout much of human history. The republican form of government had mostly been consigned to the history books since the fall of Rome. Monarchies had ruled the leading powers of the world for centuries.
“By choosing a republic, where the governed control the government — not the other way around — the Founding Fathers displayed faith in the individual’s ability to know better than any elected or appointed official what is best for himself and his family. That’s why they created a Constitution that protects our God-given rights from government. The government does not grant those rights to us as citizens.”
It’s all too easy, in the face of so many difficult problems, to throw up our hands in despair. One look at our flag, however, watered by the blood and sweat of patriots for more than 200 years, ought to cure that temptation. As Feulner’s book reminds us, the American Spirit is alive and well, provided we’re willing to believe in it and do our part to nurture our irreplaceable birthright of freedom.