Independence Day is an epic holiday. It commemorates the actions of revolutionaries who rebelled against the world’s superpower in the name of individual God-given rights, somehow won the ensuing war, and somehow stumbled through a series of blunders and created a model for the whole world. It’s a heavy burden, and many Americans have run from it. Lots of our intellectuals yearn for the status and stability of the Old World, the “realists” deplore our revolutionary energy and creative destruction, and the collectivists thrash to get free of “individualism,” a word Tocqueville invented to describe Americans.
If you look around today, you’ll find these defeatists and counterrevolutionaries in full moan. They tell us we’re doomed. We’ve lost our faith, they say, we’re badly led, they whine, our problems overwhelm us. Woe are we, woe are we.
The defeatists and counterrevolutionaries have been around since the beginning. If you sail around the Bahama Islands, you’ll find picturesque little towns with names like “Hope,” founded during the Revolution by Tories who “knew” it was only a matter of time–and not much time–before the silly revolutionaries were brought to heel by their proper lords and masters, and the faithful Tories could go back home. Ozymandias has a winter home just outside Hope.
The Tories are still in the Bahamas, and Great Britain may well be a failed state, and while we have problems galore, and leaders who don’t seem to have the talent or even the inclination to get out of our way so that we can get on with the remedies, we’ve been through worse than this. I was born a few months before Pearl Harbor, and my parents–who had survived the Great Depression–feared they’d brought a child into a nightmare world. Events reinforced their fears, as the Japanese moved across the Pacific, and the Nazis wiped out our would-be continental allies. Our armed forces were pitiful. And yet…and yet, we defeated our enemies, who were real enemies with real armies led by brilliant generals and admirals. We overwhelmed them with our incomparable energy and resolve. Two generations later, we presided over the Soviet Union’s collapse, the life force squeezed out of it by American superiority and their own failures.
Today’s enemies are not in the same league as those of my first years, or those of the end of the Cold War. The Muslim Brothers, said to be the Bolsheviks of the Muslim Arab world, didn’t (or haven’t yet, at least) put up much of a fight when they were shown the exit by a military they had purged and staffed with men believed to be loyal to the Islamist cause. The Iranian regime is fractured, its opium-addicted supreme leader unable to impose order even when he gets to choose the candidates for the presidential election. The fall of the Brothers in Cairo cannot bring joy to his cold heart, for he does not welcome the spectacle of millions of demonstrators bringing down a radical Islamist regime; he knows that his own people would love to do the same, and are looking for auguries that will unleash their revenge on him and his fellow murderers. The Syrian dictator fights for survival, and regime success on the battlefield is not his, but rather of the hollow Iranians or the ruthless Russians, another state doomed to failure by demography and alcohol, a state where a majority of female college students say that prostitution is their preferred career track.
In short, we have glorious opportunities. The world often moves paradoxically. Today’s defeat may contain tomorrow’s victory. Obama has shown the world what life would be like without America, and lots of people don’t like that picture. The fear and anger that we see in the banners and posters in Cairo, denouncing Obama for his complicity with their departed tyrant and his betrayal of the American revolutionary values we celebrate this holiday weekend, are shared by millions of Iranians, Tunisians, Syrians, Libyans, Venezuelans, Cubans, Ecuadorians and Nicaraguans. If we supported them, we could reshape the world, as we have done before.
Our current leaders have no interest in advancing our revolutionary values. On the contrary, they instinctively side with the oppressors, with our enemies. They conduct apology tours. But they, too, will pass. Without Carter, there would not have been Reagan. We had to be reminded of American exceptionalism, and this was accomplished by a feckless president who, like the current one, saw us as the heart of the problem rather than the last best hope for a solution.
I don’t know if a new leader is readying him or herself to reassert our national values, but it’s certainly possible. There is a new generation moving through the ranks, some of them tempered on the battlefields of the Middle East. We can already see some of them in Congress, in state capitals, in the Tea Party, and even in the media. They seem to “get it.” Can they win? And even if they do, will they have the courage and the wit to take advantage of the cards the Great Shuffler has dealt us?
I’m an historian, not a prophet. But we’ve actually got quite a good hand. If we play well, Obama will join Ozymandias and his ilk in Hope.