The True Genius of America
“Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America… We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.” (Barack Obama Speech at 2004 DNC Convention)
About 12 years ago a State Senator from Illinois by the name of Barack Obama stated these words in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He reaffirmed the fundamental importance of being one, united nation. Under his vision Americans could belong to various political parties and could even have major differences of opinion on the important issues of the time. However, at the end of the day Barack Obama called for a post-partisan era where a sense of unity was felt amongst all Americans.
Twelve years later, one wonders if the former President’s words are still an apt description of the country. Recently, it has become abundantly clear that this country has not lived up to its name; “The United States of America”. Rather hyperpolarization driven our politics factions further apart, reaching new heights in the most recent presidential election. With this polarization many have wondered whether America can regain its mojo as a home to a wide range of political views that can ultimately live in harmony with its counterfactions. Can we reunite this divided country? Do President Obama’s words still have a place in the United States of America of 2017?
I believe that the answer to this question lies in another statement that President Obama made in the same speech. He said, “Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy; our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal… that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ That is the true genius of America.” (Barack Obama Speech at 2004 DNC Convention)
In his speech, President Obama elaborated on what exactly makes America a great nation. Why is the idea of America revered all around the world? He explained that it is not because of anything material, but because of our democracy and the equality that comes with it. What makes America great is the fact that when we have differing opinions and we all have the right to express our opinions without fear of retribution. The democratic values which bind us together in this country are stronger than any disagreements that may push us apart.
The words of President Obama are not only relevant for the country as a whole but for our university as well. Late last year when it came time for the student council elections, it became obvious that there were deep divisions among the various groups of students in our institution. Many students felt that one candidate or another did not represent the values that they wanted to permeate the university. Of course, it is perfectly legitimate for students to disagree over which person will be the best representative for the student body. However, it is important to remember that while we may have disagreements, the ties and values that bind us together are greater than any minor disputes that we may have--just like the United States.
While unfortunately we have not yet entered into this post-partisan era that President Obama excitedly heralded, we can still continue to dream about it. It may not have happened yet but if we continue to believe in “the true genius of America” then it may yet still come in the future.