Losing the Idea of America


A reader writes:

Growing up in South Africa, I had more than enough opportunities to be confronted by injustice. The fact that people of my particular hue happened to be the beneficiaries on these daily cruelties didn't make it any easier. One (not the only, but certainly an important) source of consolation was the US’ example. You had segregation, but you ended it. You 'concentrated' Japanese Americans, but you apologized for it. Being gay, I appreciated your focus on individual liberty the notion that people should live as they please. I liked the American project, and I wanted us to follow a similar dream.

I remember standing in the doorway to my bathroom (overly specific, I know, but that's how I remember it), and hearing on the radio that Nelson Mandela was going to be freed, and the ANC un-banned. I cried (I was about 14 at the time, so that was a big deal also). I remember thinking: 'Now we can be a normal country (like the US). Now we can make normal mistakes, fix them, and try to do better next time.'

I give you the background to put in context how incredibly disappointed I've been in America since September 11. Angry sometimes (Guantanámo), shocked a few times (Abu Ghraib, the fact that Dick Cheney and George W. are real people and not characters in a bad political satire). But the disappointment has been the worst.

So many lost opportunities to be the good guys.

In any event, the reason for my email: I had forgotten that the old dreams still live in America (if not in the White House). Your blog reminded me of that.

I'm reminded of it daily as I read my emails and tour the country. I have confidence - no, faith - that Americans will recover their country, its meaning, and its promise. Soon.