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    Tuesday, August 09, 2022

    What it means to be an American: Practical course of action required

    Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays by readers in response to the question of what it means to be an American.

    What does it mean to be an American? I think this is a key question as we move forward to the 250th birthday of our Great Republic, a republic that is facing a number of seemingly divisive issues against a backdrop of contentious and often acrimonious politics.

    Watching and listening to the media and cruising the Internet might suggest that Americans are in the midst of an identity crisis, that we are again becoming a house divided against itself. This makes reflecting on our identity all the more important and defining the attributes and actions of Great Americans all the more critical.

    As for the key attributes of effective Americans, I would summarize these as dedication to the ideals of democracy and adherence to these ideals through integrity, accountability and civility in interactions with our fellow citizens and our governing institutions. As for specific actions of effective Americans, I would propose they:

    • Seek to make a meaningful contribution to society through employment and/or the care of others in the home and elsewhere (as opposed to expecting others to care for them),

    • Endeavor to raise and educate their children to become future effective Americans,

    • Vote in order to preserve our representative democracy as a viable form of government,

    • Pay taxes to provide for the security and sustainability of the republic, and

    • Respect and attend to the health and safety of all.

    I feel that the greater majority of Americans who display these attributes and act in this manner transcend political dogma and rhetoric. I am confident that adhering to this formula will sustain our democracy despite the speculation of our enemies that democracy has become archaic in the 21st century and must be replaced by autocracy.

    As for dealing with the air of dissention and division that seems to be upon us, I think that we should keep a few things in mind:

    First, Americans are free thinkers. Diversity of opinion and dissent is what produced our nation in 1776. It can be productively harnessed to make for a stronger republic as demonstrated in the past two and a half centuries. As long as we consider each other’s ideas and opinions, think critically and do not blindly adopt anyone’s canned political agenda, we can avoid the autocratic regimes that have seized power in other countries. We can remain a “government of the people”.

    Second, in seeking consensus and productive outcomes, we must be willing to compromise. Democracy does not guarantee everyone gets everything they want; it strives to provide a venue where all have the opportunity for security and prosperity and have something they can live with. Life, liberty and the “pursuit” of happiness is the ideal.

    Finally, even an effective democratic government cannot resolve all national problems and issues immediately and completely. The president is not a superhero. Congress cannot legislate common sense when it comes to complex social issues; nor can the Supreme Court, in interpreting the laws of the land, issue opinions that cover all situations and match everyone’s beliefs and expectations.

    As citizens we must discuss, consider and seek a consensus on a practical course of action on these issues, and clearly and respectfully convey our beliefs and opinions to our elected representatives at all levels.

    Pete Tebeau


    We want to know your opinion. Send “To Be An American” essays to times@theday.com.

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