In Egypt, one of the world’s most ancient of nations, the military has deposed the democratically elected president and blood now stains the streets, its fragile young democracy having lasted but one year. As I write this, here in Falmouth, Massachusetts, the town where Katharine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful,” was born, I think of this year’s celebration of the 4th of July, the 237th anniversary of our nation’s birth. Though we’ve had our problems—indeed, we still do—our country, so young in the annals of nationhood, has managed to endure for more than two and a third centuries.
It has not been easy, yet our republic has survived the Revolution itself, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, our own devastating Civil War, the Spanish-American War, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and various constitutional crises—including the contested presidential election of 2000, a low point in American politics. At times, to paraphrase George Orwell, it seems that all Americans are equal, but some Americans are more equal than others. Yet through countless debates, divisions, and disasters down through the decades, our nation has endured; through populist political extremes, our nation has endured; through racial, religious, and ethnic bigotries, our nation has endured. And through the horrific atrocities of September 11, 2001, and a wave of subsequent terrorism, we have endured.
Though our government at times may be less than we want it to be, though our representatives in Congress may seem chronically dysfunctional and we may wring our hands in despair at the direction in which the country seems to be heading, America is more than any of these. America is an idea that through our worst crises, through our bleakest days, through our darkest hours, our nation will prevail. Though we are not yet that which we one day may be, we strive still to become that “shining city upon a hill” toward which all nations, all peoples, will aspire.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea.