Of the great powers of history, America is the least imperial with the best ideals -- and a will to live up to those ideals.

One of the many great things about America is we're constantly looking at our ideals and asking ourselves where we're falling short. We always fall short. But we try. We improve, we get better -- we make mistakes, but we do so much good at the same time.

This is the nation of Jefferson and Hamilton, Lincoln and FDR. The Declaration of Independence is our moral framework, the Constitution our plan.

Even during wartime we can't stop thinking about where we fall short. And note that we haven't -- many people, the President included, have made a big point of saying that Arabs and Muslims in America are not the enemy. Hate crimes are not tolerated.

I used to live in France, and I remember the entrenched racism against Algerians which extended from the man in the street to the highest levels of government. (One official declared a 0% immigration policy while I was living there. Police in Paris shot and killed unarmed Algerians. The average Pierre I talked to would complain that Algerians are not Catholic and would dilute the French way of life. Etc.)

I wonder if any European nations in the same situation as we're in would do as much for Arabs and Muslims living there. I suspect not.

Some differences...

1. America is not an ethnicity: we're from everywhere. We're not American in the same way French people are French.

Our national identity is more a meta-identity. It says you can be who and what you want, worship how you want, say what you want, wear what you want, be the person you are -- as long as you respect everyone else's right to do the same.

2. As stated above, our tradition is to constantly examine where and how we fall short of our ideals, those truths that we hold to be self-evident, and then work to improve.

3. As Gertrude Stein pointed out almost 100 years ago, America is the oldest nation in the world, in the sense that we have the longest-running system of government. (Actually, I think we're second-oldest, but whatever.)

Our system is built on wisdom that's been too rare in the world, and has stood the test of time.

Our system is the direct descendant of the French Enlightenment. For that I say: thank you! Merci!

E pluribus unum.

This ain't no disco, no CBGB -- I ain't got time for that now.

24 Sep 2001