Nov 082010
Authors: Jim Sojourner

It’s easy to get frustrated these days with America, no matter where on the political spectrum you fall.

As voters demonstrated last week, right-leaning voters and independents alike are fed up with the way the Democrats ran the country for the last two years, accusing Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi of ignoring the American people, excessively spending, trampling on American values and fostering elitism. They handed quite the electoral “shellacking.”

Conversely though, those on the left despise what they see as uneducated, populist anger that drives the Tea Party crowds to destroy progress, and they see the possibility of less market regulation as the stepping stone to a corporate-dominated state, where the little man has no voice and remains poor.

And those somewhere on the edges or in between –– individuals identifying with parties like the Green Party, Libertarian Party or Communist Party –– feel marginalized, ignored and left out, victims of the money-driven two-party system.

All sides bash what they see as threats as un-American, fascist, socialist or totalitarian. The rendition and torture programs carried out by fascists in the name of national security make liberals proclaim they’re ashamed to be Americans. The nanny-state created by Christian-hating progressives, where handouts are valued over hard work, makes conservatives declare that they’re taking their country back.

Everyone threatens to move to Canada.

I spent the end of last week and part of the weekend in Washington D.C. at this year’s Military Reporters and Editors Conference. Friday night, after the journalist festivities ended, I spent a few hours wandering around the National Mall.

I’ll admit I’ve been one of those move-to-Canada threateners occasionally. I get just as frustrated with the political scene as the next guy, and I often catch myself thinking that nothing goes right in Washington.

But standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking down at the Washington Monument gleaming out off the reflecting pool, I couldn’t help but do some reflecting on the things that the American ideal stands for, even if our politicians and policies don’t always reflect it.

It’s the idea behind America that’s truly great. Our tenets of liberty and equality set us apart. That’s not to say America is the best country in the world, nor that we don’t make big mistakes –– sometimes nigh-unforgivable mistakes, at that –– but the Jeffersons, Madisons and Washingtons of America’s early days got the ideal foundation of our country right.

The ideas laid out in our founding documents formed the foundation for America’s successes and should be a guiding light in our hours of darkness. Our overarching beliefs in democracy and in the worth of each individual are a beacon of hope against tyranny and injustice, even when we are the perpetrators of the same tyranny and injustice those beliefs fight against.

A great many people have already died for these ideals and more will in the future. It’s sobering standing beneath hundreds of inscribed faces peering out from the Korean War Memorial. Or amid Truman’s quotes about American sacrifice circling the World War Two Memorial. Or reading the names of the tens of thousands who died in the jungles of Vietnam.

America doesn’t always fight the right wars and it doesn’t always fight wars the right way. But hundreds of thousands of American men and women have given up their lives fighting for that American ideal that can’t ever really be achieved but that we need to fight for anyway.

With Veteran’s Day around the corner, it’s worth remembering that we can always give a little more to make our country better when so many veterans have given up so much.

America is a work in progress. Just as Americans like Abraham Lincoln fought to end the injustice of slavery, it’s up to each of us to secure a better future for Americans.

As I stood beneath Lincoln in his temple and read the words of the Gettysburg Address, I choked up imagining the blood-soaked fields where brothers killed brothers in pursuit of a more perfect America. Lincoln once appealed to the better angels of our nature. We must remember the ideals and sacrifices that made America over the decades and call on those same better angels in our pursuit of the real American ideal.

I get tired of political actors invoking the Founders to support their ideologies, but standing among their memorials I couldn’t help but think that’s what they would’ve wanted.

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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