From the outside, it looks as if the United States of America is having, what we Brits in our forever accidentally patronising way, would call, “a bit of a rough time”. Its President is a game show host turned campaigning machine, gay couples can’t shop for wedding cakes wherever they like, the schools are littered with guns and the corpses they often tragically create, and racial tensions appear to be bubbling under the surface like no time since the 1960s. The 241-year-old republic finds its brand tarnished significantly in the eyes of the rest of the world and its status as a soft power (its hard power is still unmatched) has weakened, arguably, ever since the last man who made the trip from the TV studio to the White House left Pennsylvania Avenue.
However, to mangle a phrase from Shakespeare, the course of the great American experiment never did run smooth and, when a bump in the road occurs, it is easy to doubt its importance. This would be a mistake, perhaps more severe now more than ever, because, regardless of its eccentricities, the United States is still the country in the world whose success we all ought to root for.
In her novel, The Fountainhead, the philosopher, author, and adopted American Ayn Rand, a woman who fled the totalitarianism of her native Russia to the USA, puts the words, “… the noblest country in the history of men” in the mouth of her hero when describing the United States. From the perspective of a woman driven out of her homeland at the point of the pitchforks wielded by a snarling, thieving, pious, mob it must have been easy to fall in love with the country that took the tradition of English liberty and built upon it using the ideas of Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson to create the system of checks and balances, protections for individual rights, security of property, secularism, and the right to free expression that has always underpinned America. Many, I would even say most, of us who have Anglo-American sympathies, can understand exactly where the Atlas Shrugged author was coming from.
Admittedly, the US does not always live up to its founding principles (show me anything in the world that ever has) but at least it, alone amongst the nations of the world, has those good founding principles at all. If the rest of this article was to be disproved immediately, the very existence of a commitment to ensure “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” printed in the DNA of the American project would make it a moral endeavour and still worthy of being cheered on from other parts of the world.
However, should the appeal to good moral principles, based on the sanctity of human life and endeavour, be insufficient in motivating you to grab your bullhorn, pom-poms, and face paint to help cheer on the United States then consider the bleakness of the alternatives vying to take on to its role in the world.
At present, even with the aforementioned “rough time” that the USA is going through, the alternative, a world that does not take its cultural and political cues from the United States, would surely turn elsewhere for them.
This may be the hardest pill to swallow for Brits because, my dear fellow Britishers, the world would not look to us – we just don’t have that role on the world stage.
In fact, the international community would most likely turn for guidance, or at least influence, to the oppressive, morbid dictatorship of China which, unbelievably, has managed to become even more crushing as most of the world has liberated. Alternatively, it could be Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic, fake Russian gangster state that fills Uncle Sam’s shoes – which sounds just as bad but in a different horrifying way.
Additionally, I should make it clear that I only chose China and Russia for these dystopian nightmare examples because the thought of using Saudi Arabia or some other crushing theocracy strikes me as so personally horrible that I’d rather not think about it too deeply. Suffice it to say that in a world that would continue to be uni-polar, at least culturally, for some time – the United States, with all its flaws, is, to put it at its mildest, the better choice.
In the not-quite-two-and-a-half-centuries that the United States has existed it has managed to produce the iPad, Roe v. Wade, the 1st and 14th Amendments, flight, Poe, Twain, Hollywood, an embarrassment of medical and scientific advances, and a haven for those who are compelled to better themselves. It will continue to do so – because improvement is not a bug in the American software, it’s a core feature – for as long as that Star-Spangled Banner yet waves.