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Jewish World Review July 6, 1999 /22 Tamuz 5759

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality --
AMERICANS CELEBRATING July 4 this year were in a spirit of exuberance. The good old days are today. Millions of Americans are benefiting from our historic boom. America is delivering on its promise of the American dream. The dream derived from aspirations to be free of political domination. . . . No taxation without political representation was more than a tactical political cry. Nobody quite realized what freedom for the individual would mean economically, least of all, perhaps, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence we celebrate today.

But our political freedom, rooted in that essential respect for the individual, and our open door to the world unleashed stupendous energies and creativity. Free to transcend our origins, however humble, free to make of ourselves whatever our talents permit, we created a new social type–the self-made man. That's why, in America, we ask a person not who he is or who his family is but what he does. Millions were attracted here by the dream of a fresh start, a second try, a third try, an escape from the confinements and hatreds of the past.

Our immigrant history and our frontier experience helped us evolve a unique culture of self-reliance, independence, resourcefulness, pragmatism, and novelty. We are comfortable with change and with people who make things happen. We foster the upstart and the young. In America, the new is better than the old; taking charge is valued over playing it safe; making money is superior to inheriting it; education and merit are favored over family ties. Over a century ago, as the frontier vanished, the scholar Frederick Jackson Turner sug- gested that the frontier virtues would vanish too. Not so: They have flourished. And we are still discovering new frontiers.

New frontier. On the eve of the millennium, we have crossed–are still crossing–a frontier of technology. The revolutions in technology, information, and logistics have pulled decisions away from central authorities. The result? We have an information processing system ideally suited to our individualism, openness, and adaptability. The marriage of this new economy and an older American culture is a happy one, for we are better suited to today's volatile, knowledge-based economy than we were to the industrial economy of the earlier part of this century. Entrepreneurship and individual initiative have been so widely accepted that in the 1990s nearly 2 million businesses will have opened their doors.

The economic success would have been jeopardized if the millions who came here from abroad had not embraced their new identity as Americans with such gusto. Getting on together, we came to see, is essential for getting on. Civil peace among the most divergent racial and religious groups is a national goal, the Balkans merely the latest reminder of the sterility of irrational enmities. It was not ever thus, of course. On Independence Day, we do well to remember that the open hand has sometimes been a clenched fist. Blacks suffered over two centuries of slavery, then over half a century of segregation. Catholics, Jews, Irish, have all been rejected by nativists with the slogan "This is my pot. Now you do the melting."

But the barriers of class and race have been increasingly eroded by the prospect of success–initially by the ease of acquiring land in the 17th and 18th centuries, and today by the prospects of success based on individual merit and mass education. Today, some 65 percent of high school graduates go on to attend college. The dynamic generations we call X and Y today are ever more multicultural, tolerant, egalitarian, individualistic, and future oriented. We have become increasingly a universalist nation that welcomes all and includes all, in the context of a fluid, mobile, and bountiful society.

The Constitution is not just a piece of paper. It lives. We have given life to that document by becoming an increasingly just and humane society. As broader and broader segments of our population have participated in America's expansion and growth, the American dream joins us all. We are not just creating it, we are living it–and this July rightly celebrating it.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
06/02/99: The Middle Kingdom shows its antagonistic side
05/11/99: Technology's transforming power is giving a lift to everything
05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

©1999, Mortimer Zuckerman