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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Defining Moments

America is a strange nation. She is a country that produces the very best and the very worst, whether in political, economic or cultural aspects. Everything and anything happens in America.

Take its politics. America’s politics are bitterly partisan, often divided around staunch, sometimes less-clear, battle lines. Republicans and Democrats represent the dual extremes of two highly polar positions, but swing moderates, special interests groups and think tanks also exert influence. Thus the process to win votes are frequently organized and mechanized.

Here, everyone argues about equal pay to minority representation to marriage rights to corporate reform to entitlement crises to environmental preservation. The debate is so intense and noisy that at times, America seems incapable of governing or achieving anything at all.

Yet the very fact that we hear so much about the nation’s ills and maladies and doom illustrates the very strength of its democratic vibrancy. There is a desire to constantly change, renew and elevate the nation to something grander. People vote according to their perspectives and context. Hence here dissent is the best form of acceptance.

Then there are America’s laws. The constitution, with amendments such as gun-bearing rights and the secret deliberative process of the Supreme Court, can often appear antiquated. Yet its very antiquity testifies to its endurance to its very best ideals. Individuals yield to no authority or power, but subscribe to a clear if abstract ideal of justice and independence of thought.

Corruption and authoritarianism are endemic in many nations around the world, for instance, and America is no exception. Yet here none stands above the rule of law and communal moral certitude. Eliott Spitzer and John Edwards, two former successful national politicians, floundered their careers for personal indiscretions. Bernie Madoff is facing trials while Michael Vick was just released. The system allows for self-correction, regeneration and reversals.

And this is a nation of endless products and boundless consumption, products churned constantly one after another. Brands and retailers such as Staples, Quiznos, Target, Microsoft and Ford proliferate. Companies design and cater products for every subcategory, ethnicity, preference: financial and asset management needs, insurance needs, technological efficiency needs, lifestyle home interior needs, business leverage needs. The list is so diverse and plenty that one can feel lost in a world of profuse materialism.

Yet America also delivers the very best, cutting-edge leadership. Apple has conceived some of the finest consumer electronic advancements ever known, its revolutionary designs and powerful functionalities of iPhones, iPods and iMacs spawning imitators everywhere. Barring their questionable bets in risky securities, the investment banks also apply some of the most outstanding theoretical, modern approaches to facilitating business and creating conducive operating environments.

Living in America is at once seeing the world in all its forms and quirks. One tastes Korean BBQs, experiences the Irish Catholicism, indulges in French wine, retaliates against Mexican jalapeños, enjoys Cirque du Soleil and watches taiko. Cultures and cuisines come in various forms. The celebrations are diverse as they are astounding.

But the diversity also sometimes creates problems. In studies on race, though narrowing, examination scores still show marked differences. Stereotypes permeate. Urban slums are the consequence of income disparity and class groupings. A class of the very rich versus the stagnant middle class craters from the unequal distribution and remuneration of equity. The juxtaposed show the very best and very worst.

America is a restless soul tempered by a resilient dedication. She exhibits very divergent behaviors and attitudes, demonstrating exceptionalism while desiring a national collectivity. The battle for the heart of America is often fierce, cunning, voracious and incomprehensible. And this weird character is what gives America her defining, unique identity.

 

ZACH HAN thanks all the diverse people who traversed into his life from zklhan@ucdavis.edu!

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