Subtle Erosion of America's Uniqueness

Article excerpt

WHEN I look at the United States in comparison with other countries where I have lived, four aspects of our land and society appear special, perhaps unique.

(1) A new nation has been molded out of the many peoples who came seeking freedom and opportunity. (2) That nation has been guided by a respect for the rule of law. (3) The free enterprise system that helped make it strong and enterprising has been protected from excessive greed by patterns of regulation. (4) A strong middle class has provided a bridge between rich and poor, making upward mobility possible.

As my country approaches its 205th birthday, however, I fear that each of these characteristics is threatened.

The "melting pot" concept is under pressure from those who would emphasize ethnic identity over integration. Every new wave of immigration in US history has encountered the prejudice and resistance of those already in America who were uncomfortable with strangeness and who feared the competition for jobs and power.

The problem has been more acute in recent decades as the opportunities of a once-abundant continent have declined. And still only partially solved is the acceptance of the African-American as a full partner in national life.

The remarkable court and legislative actions of the 1950s and 1960s removed legal discrimination. Prejudices, nevertheless, still lie in minds and hearts, compounded now by resistance to measures that seek to help the minority yet seem to threaten the majority. This applies not only to questions of ethnicity, but to women and gays who were released from the constraints of the past by the revolution of the 1960s.

When one has seen the politically capricious and grossly corrupt legal systems in some other countries, the honest and independent judiciary of the US stands as a vital symbol of the rule of law. Yet today that system is clogged, not only by the increase in criminal cases, but by an increasingly litigious society. The manner of resolving issues through personal interaction or institutional democracy has given way to suspicions and rigidities that seem satisfied only through suits. The social compact of t he nation suffers as a result.

In much of the world, the broad application of the free enterprise system has been resisted because of the results of unbridled capitalism that has enriched a few at the expense of many. …