The idea that is America has never been fully realized.
It is an idea that all are created equal. All deserve life, liberty and the ability to pursue their dreams. People can practice their religion without fear of persecution and be free to pursue their dreams regardless of race, gender or creed.
It is an idea that government should be limited, but should also be able to act to promote the general welfare, especially if other powerful actors might subvert it.
It is an idea that does not define citizenship by race, ethnicity or place of birth. It is an idea that welcomes all who share the idea – who want to live in freedom, be able to pursue their dreams, and not fear the state or other powerful forces.
This country has enemies, those who oppose this idea. ISIS opposes the idea. Racists oppose the idea. People who hate Muslims or who want to engage in violence oppose the idea.
The idea that is America is under threat. An anti-Muslim group in Texas publishes the names and addresses of all Muslims and their “sympathizers.” A pundit for “World Net Daily” calls for a nuclear attack on Mecca. Donald Trump mocks a handicapped journalist and attacks people who believe in the idea because they were born south of the border.
The idea that is America is not objectively set in stone. We can disagree about the role of government, how active we should be in the world, and where the line between freedom and mistreatment of others lies. The belief in equality and the freedom to prosper can lead to concerns about social justice. These are all legitimate, it is an American value to accept and cherish disagreement – that’s the only way we learn and test out our ideas.
Yet if the core goals reflect freedom, human rights, and equal opportunity — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — we share the idea despite disagreements on what it means in diverse situations. Conservative Republicans, liberal democrats, libertarians and social democrats share the core idea.
But it’s not enough just to be thankful. We have to live the idea. We have to respect and treat others right, and stand up against those who espouse anti-American values: racists, Islamophobes, anti-Semites, homophobes and anyone who wants to deny others freedom since they don’t exercise it in the way one wants.
Americans respect Islam. Americans respect Christianity. Americans respect atheism – the idea that is America is that one chooses what one believes, and that deserves respect. What we don’t respect is when one uses ones’ beliefs to act against the core values of the country.
America is not a place, but an idea. Without the idea the place is meaningless.