When the s*** hits the fan, for more than two centuries the best people in the world have been able to count on one thing: escaping to America.
Even before there was a United States, the land we call America was a different place. In America, a peasant could own land. A slave could fight — literally — for his freedom. An Irish cop could arrest an English criminal.
In America, a Russian could speak his mind, an Italian could renounce the Pope, a Serbian could marry a Turk, an Asian or an Indian could find space to move, a Catholic could get divorced, a Jew could eat bacon, and a housewife could get a job. A … well, pretty much anyone could do most anything. Maybe not at first, and certainly not without ridicule if you chose do something really silly — but the choice was yours.
In America, you were free.
Here was a New World. No kings, no knights, no dukes, no earls. No titles, no shackles, no pales of settlement. Some of us, shamefully, owned slaves. But when push came to shove, Americans were willing to kill and die to make other men free. It was true in the Civil War. It was true in World War Two. It remains true today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We were never perfect, but we were always working on it — at least when we weren’t trying to make a buck, or maybe just trying to avoid attention. America was the land of promise, and the land that delivered on that promise.
American freedom was a huge, sprawling, messy, brawling thing. It consumed everything and anything, and spewed out an unimaginable bounty. For some, the freedom was about growing their business and making money. For others, it was about growing their hair and making love. But it was always here, for anyone willing to risk the journey and leave behind the Old World and its old ways.
But now that we have this wonderful place, this precious idea — what are we doing with it?
Already, the government runs our children’s education and our parents’ retirement. Now we’re allowing it to usurp our banks and nationalize what remains of our auto industries. Within weeks, Washington promises a plan to dictate our health care. To do all this, we’ve let Washington run up enough red ink to impoverish our grandchildren. As if all that weren’t enough, the president still found the time to kick our friends in London and Tel Aviv while courting a genocidal, election-stealing maniac in Tehran. He even gave a speech in Cairo — that oppressed, impoverished Old World megalopolis — in which he assured the world that America really is no better than anywhere else.
Well, once upon a time, we were.
Absent a warp drive, a wormhole, or some other science fiction escape to an uninhabited Earth-like planet, it’s impossible to recreate the conditions which allowed the creation of these United States. It can’t be done; there aren’t any New Worlds left to discover. Our maps are all filled in.
If the Old World comes here, where does the New World have left to go?
When the Puritans were persecuted in England, they risked everything to come to America. When young Germans faced the Prussian army’s grip, they gave up their ancient towns to come here. When Jews faced the Czar’s pogroms, they gave up their bucolic steppes for the slums of New York. Rather than accept stagnant lives in their own countries, Latin Americans risked uncertain lives in America. Rather than accept far milder impositions than our own, America’s Founding Fathers risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor just to sign their names on parchment.
Anyone with nothing to lose and everything to gain — and bearing wits and character enough to risk it all — came here. They ventured here. To America.
Whatever liberty we have right here, right now, in America … well, for all practical purposes, that’s all that’s left anywhere. If France had our freedoms, there would be no French here. If China had it, there would be no Chinese here. If it existed in Latin America, there would be no Spanish spoken here. And so it goes.
And so if we, here in America, throw it all away in a fit of panic or pique, then what we once called “America” will become as false as a fairy tale.
In a future where cap-and-trade has made the comforts we take for granted something only the rich or privileged enjoy …
where public debt has starved private investment …
where confiscatory taxation has choked off risk-taking and entrepreneurship …
where the dole has reduced all of us to beggars …
where liberty is a dim memory or half-forgotten dream … in that future, there is nowhere to run.
No New Worlds for making fresh new starts.
Someday, our children might comfort their own with incredible stories that no one will believe, even though they are true.
Those stories will begin with: “Once upon a time there was a land called America.”
(Author’s note: The theme and closing line of this piece were taken from a speech given by Preston M. Green to the Association of Steel Distributors more than 25 years ago. Both have aged tragically well.)