Today our good neighbours to the south are celebrating their country’s birthday—its 247th. Two hundred and forty seven days of democracy, the longest ever. The second most famous democracy—ancient Athens—lasted a mere 185 years.
Like Athenians, the Americans began their democracy with some rather serious omissions. Slaves and women weren’t allowed to vote. Unlike Athenians, eventually they recognized their mistakes and corrected them.
Challenges remain to this day, the main one being the excessive influence of wealth, corporate and oligarchic.
Despite their sins, past and present, the Americans exploit their country’s greatest strength—its exceptional freedom—to self-criticize and continue the never-ending work of identifying weaknesses and correcting them.
Some Americans, and others, refer to their country as the one indispensable nation. From the perspective of maintaining freedom and democracy in the world, they may have a point.
Democracy is being challenged by one great power (China), one would-be great power (Russia) and an assortment of trivial powers. Not to mention a threat from within the U.S. itself from a fascist demagogue and his Republican acolytes.
Maintaining democracy in the U.S., as highly imperfect as it is, may just be essential to maintaining it globally. Perhaps I am underestimating Europe and democratic strength elsewhere, perhaps not.
Quite aside from its value to the maintenance of our shared values, I wish the country well for what it offers in so many ways. It delights with its entertainments and amazes with its technical and economic creativity. At the same time it often drives one to dismay with its imperial and violent foreign policies (providing me endless fodder for blog posts).
The former always leaves me forgiving it for the latter. Any society that invented Hollywood, blues and baseball—three of my favourite things—has got to be a great place.
I will continue, like the rest of the world, to remain an ardent America-watcher. Today I wish the Americans a grand and happy 247th birthday.