I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy birthday. 240. Wow. It seems like just yesterday that you were nothing more than a scrappy collection of British colonies, angry at the mother country, and determined to make your grievances heard. When simple political protest did not work, you bucked up, grabbed your weapons, harnessed the genius cluster then fortuitously nestled there on your eastern seaboard — men like Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and the rest — and declared your independence.
That was the easy part.
You fought a war — the first of many — and won it through determination, diplomacy, and a willingness to do what was needed. You came out of it a republic, something rare in those days, and created what is possibly history’s most successful and structurally sound governing document — the U.S. Constitution. At the time, many thought you would not last long, and would collapse under the weight of your competing component parts (the states).
You have proved them wrong — at least, so far.
Before you get ahead of yourself, though, you ought to keep in mind a few facts. For instance, the British Empire lasted for roughly 350 years. The Roman Empire lasted for 500 years. The Byzantine Empire lasted for 1,120 years. And, the pharaohs ruled Egypt for 3,000 years.
Pretty sobering, right?
Are we now, then, witnessing your teenage years, America? Is that why we find ourselves in this state of national angst? Is this your adolescent period, during which you “find yourself?” Perhaps.
To be honest, it seems like you are in a bit of a funk. It is almost like a malaise has set in, and is weighing you down. You doubt your political leaders and institutions. You doubt your future prospects. You doubt that your place as the world’s political and economic leader will continue much longer. That is a depressing collection of uncertainties.
You have hit 240, and maybe, like other teenagers, you feel like this is the best you are ever going to be. Surely, it must all be downhill from here, right? Maybe you are starting to doubt that the old magic will stay with you. Maybe you are foreseeing middle age, a crappy career as a mid-level global manager, and your twilight years watching others supersede your greatness while you are helpless to do anything about it. Sad, indeed.
Well, America, I am here to tell you, it is time to buck up again.
On this, your birthday, it is the perfect time to take a deep breath, recapture the old magic, and re-engage. Get back in the fight, America. Remember who keeps the peace, and order, in this world. You do. Remember who guarantees the free movement of trade and commerce on the world’s oceans. You do. Remember who has the military that dominates the globe. You do.
To help you motivate yourself to overcome this malaise, I am going to remind you of a few things. I am going to give you a pep talk of sorts. No need to thank me. It is the least I can do.
First, remember who you are. You are the greatest nation on earth. You have a stable, functioning, republican form of democracy, where coups d’etat are unheard of, and orderly transfers of power the norm. No, your government does not work perfectly all of the time. No, your politicians are not always the best of the best. But guess what, you can always change them. So do it. Stay involved and do not give up on your political system. It was crafted by intellectual giants, to protect your liberties, and it has worked pretty well for you. Hold on to that, and continue to nurture and protect it.
Second, you have natural, intellectual, and demographic resources for which most other countries would kill. You have oil, gas, abundant farm land, plentiful water, coasts facing two oceans, natural defenses afforded by those same oceans, and 3.8 million square miles of territory. Your people have founded Google, Apple, Ford, IBM, Microsoft, General Electric, Facebook, Exxon, and Walmart. You have a replenishing population, in the form of immigration, and your people are hard-working and productive. The facts included in this paragraph alone are astounding.
Third, the world still relies on you to keep order, and enforce the global rules. They know that you are — at heart — a benevolent force in the world. You only strike out when you feel threatened, or your interests are at stake, and you fight for what most would consider, the majority of the time, a just cause.
Do not take this for granted. Besides a hoard of fanatical Islamic extremists lashing out at you (and the rest of the world), no country really fundamentally and actively seeks your destruction. Yes, you have international enemies, but they fear you, and they know that any attempt to attack you would be met with global resistance, because the world needs you. That is a very secure place in which to find yourself.
Fourth, you have a healthy dose of self-awareness. You know that you are not always right, either at home or in international affairs. You make mistakes, choose poorly, and occasionally go down the wrong path. The good news is, you usually self-correct. It may take time, but eventually, through shear force of will, you come to grips with your problems. Slavery. Poverty. Limited suffrage. Wealth inequality. Economic weakness. Social disunity. You have faced them all down. Slowly, methodically, and with determination, you have worked, or keep working, through them. That is no small feat.
Finally, just look at yourself. Where else in the world can you show up, fresh off the boat, with little money or social status, and within a generation or two, have built yourself up to be solidly middle class, or even wealthy. That is nothing to scoff at. The American dream is real. You can make it here, and for that reason, many want to come and try for themselves. Through their efforts, your whole country is usually better off.
So, happy birthday, America.
For 240 years you have been that shining lighthouse on the shore, that city on the hill, to which a lot of the rest of the world aspires to go, or at least, to emulate. Promise yourself that as you begin your next 240 years, you will keep this in mind, and that you will actively work to protect and nurture what you have. It is a glorious place to be.