What it means to be an American

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COMMENTARY: Talk show host Dennis Prager was asked: What’s the biggest danger to America? He said, “We have not passed on what it means to be an American to this generation.”

Michael Swickard

Courtesy photo

Michael Swickard

Our country was founded because British leaders acted oppressively. The English king and his parliament changed the course of history for the entire world by planting the seeds of rebellion in a society strong enough to resist and wise enough to construct a lasting representative republic. There were no free countries when Americans revolted.

The king and his advisors were arrogant and ignorant, two traits that infest oppressive governments. A reasonable British government would not have inspired rebellion and I would be drinking tea while writing my columns instead of coffee.

Americans hold three American ideas: the presumptions of innocence, commerce and freedom. But these presumptions are under attack in our country and not taught in schools as often as they were when I was young. They are some of the reasons that America is the shining light of liberty. Or was.

As to innocence, we are supposed to assume those accused of a crime are innocent unless convicted in a court of law. The media has lead an assault on that presumption. There really is no longer this presumption.

As to commerce, except where the government has made winners, our rich have gotten so by public free exchange where both parties walked away happy. Steve Jobs became rich by anticipating what we wanted, not because the government poured money into his pocket.

Our country became a great example for all of the world because of our principle that a willing buyer and a willing seller, both happy with the outcome, are the cornerstones of our nation. Little by little over the last 100 years the government has intruded and we no longer have free markets.

Finally, American freedom is the ability of citizens to not have to do what they do not want to do so long as it does not harm someone else. However, our government lives to impose its will upon Americans. I pray we retain enough freedom to teach our children what freedom means, along with the other two presumptions.

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The great question for us geezers and geezerettes is how to teach something to the young people that isn’t prominently on display in our country. It is tough to do but must be done. It isn’t just restoring civics to the public-school classrooms; we must change some of the narratives. One is the country is basically unfair.

While the founding of this country involved men who kept slaves, we are long past that and we should not reject the good with the bad. The men who put their lives, their possessions and their sacred honor on the line so we could be free were magnificent.

And the Constitution is unique to our nation, even though it has been under assault for a hundred years. We must teach these uniquely American ideas to our young people.

Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.

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