America: Junk or Jewel?

By Tim Elmore


You’d have to be an ostrich with its head in the sand to miss what’s happened to our country over the last decade. We are polarized on many issues, but chief among them is how to even view our nation: Is America junk or a jewel?


One side of this issue points out how pitifully we’ve handled civil rights, racial equality, climate change, fuel supplies and marginalized populations in our midst. These are the kinds of realities that drove San Francisco quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, to remain seated during the national anthem back in 2016. He later commented, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” People who lean toward this side of the issue can only perceive the shortcomings of America and find it hard to feel any national pride on Independence Day. 


People on the other side of the issue often feel disdain for those like Colin Kaepernick. They see our nation’s history and the good it has accomplished and can’t believe citizens would feel anything but gratitude. In their view, the U.S. has not only offered opportunity to its citizens to pursue the “American dream,” but we’ve also spread freedom and democracy around the world. Those on this side of the argument are grateful for the U.S. military, which has defended these freedoms since 1776. They might even wonder why those who view America as “trash” don’t move to another country. We’ve all seen the bumper sticker: “America: Love It or Leave It.” 


On this Independence Day, may I offer an alternative point of view?


Is it possible both angles have merit? Could it be that we’re so busy debating against the far left or the far right that we’ve missed the answer in the middle? Informed citizens must adopt a wider perspective that acknowledges our need to improve. We must not act like the blind parent who fails to see their child has done anything wrong, but spot the areas in which we need to live up to our promise: “All men are created equal.”  


It’s interesting to me: those who only see the good in America often fail to see the long-term perspective. With only gratitude on our minds, we miss the need to do something about renewable fuels, to watch the trends in climate, and to address police officers who are prejudiced as they enforce the law.


Let’s Hop on a Swing Set 

Yet, just as we need to see long-term into the future, we must see long-term into the past. With all our flaws, America was an experiment that worked better than other forms of government as it was birthed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Democracy, free enterprise, the freedom of religion and speech, and the freedom against a government of tyranny are still revolutionary. 


So, what if we hopped on a hypothetical “swing set” and swung backward to see the past and forward to see a future that’s even better? I suggest we carry both perspectives into today’s celebration:


  1. Gratitude. We should feel absolutely grateful for the good that’s been done.
  2. Growth. We should be absolutely committed to grow into our ideals in the future. 


May I challenge you to consider one reality you are grateful for in America’s past? Then, consider one improvement you’ll work toward as we march into the future.


America: Junk or Jewel?