If you’re anything like me, the last six months have been difficult, heart breaking, frustrating, exhausting, and all around depressing. We’ve seen several attempts by various groups to undermine the progress we’ve made as a nation over the last couple of decades. We’ve watched as those who are supposed to lead us to a better future instead chose to use their power to line their own pockets and serve their own agendas. We’ve watched as minorities and the most vulnerable have lost rights, dignity, and occasionally their lives because of these leaders and their messages. Nearly every day comes with some new threat to our democracy, something new to call our representatives about. There have been days when all I wanted to do was throw up my hands, move to a deserted island, and live as a hermit for the rest of my life. I could easily bury my head in the sand and ignore everything going on, but I choose not to. And that’s because I still see the America that I love underneath the politics of today. I still feel a great sense of pride for the Iowa Nice that I see lived out every day. I still believe that the United States can be a world leader once again, and that we don’t need to compromise ourselves and our morality to do so.
Call me naively optimistic, but I still think there are good things about America. Yes, these are hard times and a stress test for our nation, but I’m still hopeful. And so, as we head into the most patriotic day of the year, I wanted to take some time to remind myself (and others) of the good things about the US. Personally, I need a moral boost from time to time. I do not wish to sweep all the bad things under the rug, but let’s take a break, for just a moment, and be positive. Here is a list (brief and incomplete) of the positives I see in the United States today.
The United States is the third largest country in the world, and home to nearly every nationality, every religion, and every language that exists in the world today. Over 300 languages are spoken on a daily basis in the United States, 149 of which come from other nations and the remainder are native to the United States. Nearly a quarter (21% of households, or 14 million households) of households speak a language other than English within their homes. While some may decry using any other language than English, this is an invaluable tool to the United States, especially in the globalized world we live. Women and minorities also own a large portion of businesses within the US. As of 2012, 9,878,397 women and 7,952,386 minorities owned businesses (compared to 14,844,597 men and 18,987,918 non-minorities).
Media and Entertainment
The United States comprises one third of the world’s entertainment and media industry. This industry has given us great moments throughout history and is largely responsible for the spread of American culture all over the world. Whether it be a Hollywood blockbuster like Wonder Woman bringing to light female empowerment, or hard hitting journalism like the kind that brought to light corruption in government during the Watergate scandal, the M&E industry has impacted our lives on nearly every level. This is especially true when we examine the work of documentaries in educating the population. Last year, the documentary 13th became the first documentary to ever open the New York Film Festival (and featured one of my most favorite professors) and was the “first time a black woman director opened the festival.”
Included within this industry is another one close to my heart, the book publishing industry. In 2016 this market was worth about $39 billion – second largest in the world- and while it includes books of all kinds, the largest growth within this industry in 2016 was seen in educational books. Although I’m more of a traditionalist in this area in that I prefer hard copies of books, the eBook market has grown exponentially in recent years and this has driven down the cost of publishing and buying books, as well as given access to books to a wide range of people all over the country and all over the world. It has also encouraged self-publishing among smaller authors looking to make their mark.
Come on, it wouldn’t be an official 4th of July post if the word “Freedom” didn’t pop up at least ten times. As cheesy as it is, let’s be honest, it’s a trademark of the United States. I’m free to write this post with my own opinions. I’m free to write other posts that condemn the United States. I’m free to speak my mind about anything I want to. I’m free to vote for the person I want, to work at the job that I want, to live where I want, to be who I want. I can criticize my elected officials without the threat of imprisonment or death. I can worship, or not worship, the god of my choice, I can learn about any topic I chose thanks to the internet and libraries. As a woman, I’m free to drive a car, manage my own money, marry whom I chose, own property, have a job, get an education. The list could honestly go on.
An important part of this freedom is the ability to express discontent about the way things are, something that Americans have done a much better job of in the last couple of years. The day after an election many had hoped would turn out different, we didn’t dissolve into rage and violence, but instead we mobilized and came together in what was one of the largest mass protests in history, totaling about 5 million people world wide. When a travel ban left our airports in chaos and confusion, protestors organized almost immediately to show support, contact families, and organize lawyers for those being detained. Donations to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood spiked as did the number of people volunteering. In my own community, quarterly meetings are held between law enforcement and minorities to encourage tolerance and bring an end to hate crimes. If there is one thing this political turmoil has done, it is wake up people from their nonchalant involvement in politics and energize them to “stand up and fight back.”
I grew up in the city but spent a lot of time on farms and barns throughout the state. I’ve always found joy in being in wide open spaces with room to breath and stretch my arms (picture Julie Andrews’ Sound of Music Poster). Even within the city, my hometown has several long and beautiful biking and walking paths that seclude you in a way that makes it feel as though the city is miles away instead of a couple dozen feet. This isn’t unique to my home state either. The United States is home to 417 official National Parks that account for more than 84 million acres total and are located in every single state, including the territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. The United States also preserves other areas such as battle grounds, seashores, river ways, historical sites, and many others. This dedication to preserving the natural landscape has allowed people like me to explore the natural beauty of the nation and it’s history.
Research and Innovation
The United States is seemingly founded on innovation, inventions, and investments into new ideas and products. This is one of the things that set the United States apart from other countries in the early twentieth century, and it has continued into the first quarter of the twenty-first century. We have been leading the world in medical and scientific research for decades, and we still are. In 2009, the US was responsible for publishing 1,169 (40%) of articles published in various scientific journals. In 2007, the United States was responsible for 51% of global research spending. While that number has dropped in recent years, the United States is still outspending even the fastest growing countries. All of this research and innovation has paid off; the US is the leader in treatment of cancer with a survival rate higher than most other countries.
Beyond the medical field, the US has been a leader in developing technology for faster, more efficient computers and cell phones, with Apple being the most notable example. We’ve begun to use Augmented Reality to help train doctors and nurses to perform everything from risky operations to simple procedures. The same technology has been implemented to help train police officers to react calmly and safely (read, not shooting unarmed people) in a wide variety of situations.
As you go out this 4th of July, I encourage you to come up with your own list. It may be short and it may have caveats at the end of each item (I had to resist the urge to use several here) but it will, I hope, contain at least a few good things you can hold on to as we continue to march along for the next three and a half years. I also hope that this list and your own will inspire you to fight harder for those around you and for the democracy you enjoy.