Martin Walker, a talented former Washington correspondent for The Guardian, began his speech by saying that July 4th was not a sad time for him, as it was a time when the good British Yemeni peasants in the colony revolted against Germany. The king and his German tenants.
Walker – who now lives in France and wrote the highly successful “Bruno” detective book set in the Perigord region – once told me, “It’s exciting to live in a country where the president can order an aircraft carrier to settle a dispute.”
He, an Englishman, and I, a former British colonist, shared our appreciation for the United States. For America’s birthday, I’ve counted some of the things I like the most and admire this country of unlimited experimentation. Also, alas, I admit it’s becoming harder to feel proud of it as I once did.
America, for me, has always embodied a special freedom: the freedom to try. The wonderful thing about it is that you can try a business, an idea, a way of life or even a way of thinking. I read in Thomas Griffith’s 1958 book “The Waste-High Culture” that Europe is a “no” culture and the United States is a “yes” culture. Really true.
In my first year here, I wrote a letter to a family member in England, surprised by the size and scope of the American market. I wrote to him, “You can make a fortune by making glass beads here, as long as they were good glass beads.” I still believe.
Another great freedom, which I value, is that you can go all over the country and start over. If you think you failed in New York, you can pick up a new sheet and try again in Chicago, Austin or San Francisco. You may fail in marriage, business, career and some very public ways, but you can go somewhere else again.
You can’t do that in different ways, in city-states – for example, the way England is dominated by London and France by Paris. The United States has geographical independence that has its own ups and downs.
I was addicted to America from the beginning. I have not thought of the sins of the past, the Puritans, the pioneers, and the cruelty of the settlers, to the folly of prohibition. When I arrived, I embraced all that was in the present; The civil rights movement was going on and gaining strength, and it was possible to believe that the United States would be a shining example of how you fix it, how you correct small and big flaws, and how you let people improve. John F. Kennedy was president, and it was a new day.
When I covered Congress, I was fascinated by: the center of power of the committee, the indifference to party discipline, and a system where you needed majority approval to pass legislation.
Overall, members of Congress were the hardest working people in the neighborhood (and some were the most alcoholics). They wanted to understand the problems of cancer from nuclear energy. Congress was not perfect, but it wanted to fix things.
Over the years, I have participated in Humbert Summer School – a think tank in western Ireland. I enjoyed talking about the presidential system as superior to the parliamentary system, where a simple majority could be defeated.
Now, alas, the Congress is feeling the evils of a parliamentary government and especially of any quality of speedy legislation. Party discipline – as California House minority leader Kevin McCarthy avoids Wimming’s Republican Liz Cheney – replaces the old tolerance for differences within the party. It began with the 1994 Genrich Revolution, which was fueled by the proliferation of single-point-of-view talk radio.
Like all uncontrolled erosion, it has gotten worse.
America The Beautiful, I wish you a happy birthday. I thank you for your generosity over these decades, and I sincerely say, “Remember how you are going.” The world you seek is fair and just, and full of possibilities, not divided and hostile and needs to threaten itself.