The United States, on this its 237th birthday, is in the midst of a great debate over what to do about one of its most intractable problems: illegal immigration, and more broadly, the immigration system in general.
The debate has been largely civil, with some sharp words on talk radio and the cable news channels — no surprise — but no violent protests, no crippling nationwide strikes, no clashes between those who oppose each other’s views. The question of whether to somehow legalize the millions of illegal immigrants in the country (the only answer) or deport them (impossible) is being decided in the halls of Congress, with input from the citizenry, as well as some of the undocumented themselves, not in the streets.
The president is playing his role in the sedate manner that is his custom when he’s not giving speeches full of soaring rhetoric. A little more than half the country supported his re-election; a little less than half did not. While the dissenters largely haven’t changed their minds, they’re not storming the White House on this or any issue; they’re storming the airwaves, opinion pages and blogs.
Contrast that with Egypt, where, as of this writing, the president is facing an ultimatum from the military to step down. He’s only been in office for a year, being elected after a chaotic revolution brought down his predecessor. The streets of Cairo are rife with violence and chaos, as those on either side of deposing the president battle it out.
The difference between the two nations is stark, and just one piece of the mountain of evidence showing that this country and the system of government at its foundation, despite some flaws, remain the best in the world. That’s worth noting on this and every July 4th, Independence Day.
The Supreme Court just issued rulings on a major social question, the inevitable and desirable march toward marriage equality. As with the immigration debate, there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue. But it’s all three branches of our government, at all levels from the municipal to the federal, that are deciding our course. Violence has no place in the debate. In many other countries, it would.
Some serious examples of government overreach, likely unconstitutional, were recently revealed by a whistleblower whom some consider a traitor. The result has been a national conversation about the proper limits of state power, not a coup or a civil war. Elsewhere, it could easily be different.
In Florida a man stands trial for stalking a youth, fighting with him, pulling out a gun and killing him. The death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman was a tragedy, and may have been murder. A jury will decide. But it’s clear from the testimony so far that Zimmerman is getting a fair trial. That’s guaranteed here, but not everywhere.
Here in New York, some officials seek to rein in the police just for searching too many people, even as violent crime plummets. Civilians, not the police, set policy.
There’s no question the United States committed atrocities in the past, most notably the enslavement of Africans and the subjugation of the Indians. The struggles ensuing from these events continue to this day. And there are several areas in which other countries are outperforming this one. But over time, the United States has shown itself to be more forward-looking, more stable and more free than any country with even a tenth of its population.
It was 150 years ago, in the midst of a crisis dwarfing any we see today, that Abraham Lincoln referred to the United States as the last best hope of Earth. He said that despite the evil of slavery, which he was about to outlaw, and a raging civil war. At the nation’s darkest hour, he was right to say it, and it’s still true today. Happy Independence Day.