Thoughts coming off the 4th of July

Steve Kelman reflects on global reaction to the United States' fundamental idea.

steve kelman

As some of my Facebook friends are aware, I try to be conscientious about remembering the religious holidays and national days of places and faiths where I have a significant number of Facebook connections. So on the morning of the Fourth of July, not surprisingly, I posted a status update sending U.S. Facebook friends best wishes for the holiday. But I decided to add an additional twist, partly to see what kind of reaction, if any, it would get.

I posted that I was "wishing U.S. Facebook friends best wishes for the Fourth of July. Hope that non-U.S. Facebook friends will join Americans in celebrating: for all our (many) faults, the U.S. represents values of respect for people, freedom, democracy and opportunity that are important for people everywhere."

The post got a pretty large reaction, 89 likes. But what was more interesting, I think, was who liked the post:

  • 44 Americans
  • 41 non-Americans
  • 4 non-Americans currently living/studying/working in the U.S.

Think about this for a second. If I post a Facebook greeting for the national days of China, Mexico, Taiwan or Sweden, it is overwhelmingly Chinese, Mexicans, Taiwanese, or Swedes who "like" the greeting. Few Swedes like a post about China's national day, or vice versa. But it's not just us Americans who (not surprisingly) like ourselves. Others, or at least some others, like us too.

It's not too hard to find reasons why people from other countries might not like us. People in the United States are killed in mass shootings with horrible frequency. Our political system is mired in gridlock. We get involved in a lot of wars. And, of course, we are rich and powerful, which can evoke jealousy.

But we have something going for us, which is an idea. As one of the "likers" of my Facebook greeting, a Mexican, wrote: "I congratulate all the American friends, and generally to modern democracies, inspired by the independence of the United States of America (the independence of 1776, the foundation of freedoms in the world); these countries have promoted development of freedom, equality and democracy. Congratulations on the 4th of July."

I'm going to put it very abstractly -- the American idea is about respect for the worth of people, the idea that all are precious and all should have a chance to make something of ourselves. It is an idea that is very far from realization in many, many parts of the world -- and indeed, it is realized imperfectly here inside the U.S. as well. But it is still an idea that inspires and that lies behind the many around the world who wish us, and the United States, well.

My Facebook post, and the reaction to it, reminded me.

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