Monday, January 21, 2013

Happy Inauguration Day

Celebrated: In the United States, every four years since 1789

Greetings from Washington, DC, where President Barack Obama just took the oath of office for a second term as 44th President of the United States of America.

I've been reading a lot lately, for work and for pleasure, about the pervasively corrupting force of nationalism, and how nationalism can become a pretext and an excuse for the worst of human behavior. I have never been entirely comfortable with the idea of being proud to be an American, because my American identity is an accident of lucky parentage.

And yet today reminds us of why and how it is possible to be proud of being an American — because the American identity is not about bloodlines but about the joint, collective agreement that all humans are created equal, with basic rights that include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's right there in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

To be an American is to accept the obligations of that as well as the rights. The American Dream is not about having more but about doing better, in all the ways it is possible to do better: building not just prosperity, but knowledge and kindness and courage and strength. We aspire, and that aspiration is a great thing, even if we fail along the way. "We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect," the President said today.

We can learn and we can change, not only as individuals but as a nation. That is something to be proud of, as we celebrate the election of the mixed-race son of an immigrant, on the national holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King.

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