There was a time when the American experience could be summarized as some version of the American Dream, replete with imagery of the Statue of Liberty and huddled masses of immigrants. America was a country where everything was possible, where a person was judged only on merit, where hard work was always rewarded. This distinctive Americanness was best portrayed by the greatest of writers: Tocqueville, Twain, Melville, and Fitzgerald.
It doesn’t take much more than a cursory look at the cable news networks to realize that time has passed. America is no longer defined as a land of opportunity. The opportunities have moved on to places like India, China, and Brazil.
But that doesn’t mean America’s time has passed. It just means the character of our great nation has changed. And I think the best way to qualify what America has become is to spend time among Americans in a foreign country.
Take Beijing, for example. I see Americans here that will fight tooth and nail not to be cheated by a taxi driver. Nothing gets our ire up like the idea that we may have been cheated. Is it really worth arguing over what amounts to less than a dollar because the driver may have driven around third ring road instead of taking the direct route. Or when bargaining at a market, knowing that a vendor would charge a couple dollars less to a native Beijinger makes us want to add bargaining in bad faith to the list of deadly sins. Americans hate to be taken advantage of, even if it makes us look like an ass and a cheapskate.
So that’s what America has become. You don’t see many Canadians acting this way. I wonder which country Jesus is rooting for?
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