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It's not as bad as folks say

Really, it's not. All you need to do is type, "What makes America great?" (or some permutation thereof), into your Internet search engine. You will be presented with millions of results featuring list upon list extolling the benefit and value of our Republic. Some of these lists are light-hearted (but not without merit, have a look at any of the 100 great things about America that was published, up until recently, by, but others are entirely thoughtful and compelling (see, for example, Daniel Krauthammer's excellent essay in the May 8th issue of The Weekly Standard, "What Makes America Great? The question at the heart of the debate over nationalism").

I bring this up because I've just been re-reading Geoff Kabaservice's op-ed from the Saturday, June 10th edition of The New York Times, "Our Failing President's Great Performance." Kabaservice, who has his degree in American History from Yale and is currently a research consultant at the Republican Main Street Partnership, has written some sensible and interesting stuff about the recent history of the Republican Party. Ideology aside, his essay deserves a read and some serious reflection, even though the topic of his essay, which was framed around James Comey's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, is a bit dated. Toward the end, Kabaservice made an observation that I found profoundly disturbing, although not especially surprising, given the current social climate:  "Scratch a Trump supporter, and you’re likely to find someone deeply pessimistic about America and its future."

This is attitude is unfortunate, because I believe it betrays a warped, perverted view of what this country is, what it can be, and what it should be. Frankly speaking, it also demonstrates a certain degree of cowardice. "They've destroyed everything and they can't be touched." (Feel free to fill in the blank as to whom they are.) Such an attitude conveys a belief our problems can't be solved, the system is rigged, and I'm just a poor (and very outraged) victim.

Haven't we had enough of that? While we as a society face numerous deep-seated problems, I believe the citizens of the United States also have the social and political structure that is best designed to solve these problems. The best ideas and the most innovative ones for addressing these issues, everything from opioid addiction to how people will earn their daily bread in the future, will come from town-hall meetings and the editorial pages of local newspapers, discussed or written by people of good will. It is from these that public servants (those that still exist) and politicians (whether they like it or not) will take their cue, not the other way around. It's up to us to hold our elected officials accountable for what they do. We seem to have gotten sloppy about this lately, but that doesn't mean the course is irreversible. Maybe it's high time we reversed it. Let's talk about how.

In case you're wondering, I have a deliberate reason for frequently citing articles and commentary that may otherwise be considered "old news" by today's standards. The material that I'm posting here has long-term value, even if portions of it are directed to events of the day gone by. I am arguing that the merit of the written word transcends the day-in and day-out news-bite speak nonsense that our radio/television news media endeavors to foist upon us, and can be digested and reflected upon weeks, months, and even years after it appears in print.

Looking for an example of a time when the United States was genuinely admired and revered? Pay a visit to the web site of Library of Congress for a look at its collection entitled, Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States, 1926. As reported by The Washington Post on July 3rd, this collection is essentially a giant birthday card, signed by 5.5 million Poles, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of American independence. If you're wondering, 5.5 million Poles in 1926 represented 18.8% of the whole country's population. Everyone from school children to soldiers signed this "card," which ended up as 30,000 pages in 111 bound volumes, sent in appreciation for the perceived role of the United States in helping Poland regain its independence at the end of the First World War after 118 years of partition. President Woodrow Wilson included the re-establishment of the Polish state as Point 13 in his Fourteen Points for a lasting peace. In addition, the American Relief Administration, headed by future president Herbert Hoover, sent tons of food to Poland in the aftermath of the conflict to help feed the children of the war-ravaged country. The Poles didn't forget these gestures. Whereas it may be helpful to know how to read Polish when looking at the material, that shouldn't deter you. The artwork alone is exquisite and well worth seeing.

While we're on the topic of Poland, the scholarly world suffered a serious blow at the end of July with the passing of Piotr Wandycz, the Bradford Durfee Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University. Professor Wandycz was the dean of Polish historians for the past 50 years, both in the United States and abroad. I had the enormous privilege of studying under him at Yale and was continually stupefied by his wide-ranging and encyclopedic knowledge of European history. In my seven years there, I remember seeing him stumble over a fact (for all of five seconds) just once; he hesitated while endeavoring to remember if a certain village, after the re-drawing of borders, ended up in Hungary or Romania after the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, Professor Wandycz was a thoroughly decent man, of great character and integrity. He was modest regarding his own accomplishments but generous and gracious in his relationships with students, his peers, and other scholars. The world is poorer without him.


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