Column: Red, White, and Blue, From Sea to Shining Sea, Long May It Wave

Mr. Thompson, Professor of Public Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the author of Legalized Gambling: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara and Denver: ABC-Clio, 1994 and 1997-2nd ed.).

As a gambling researcher in Las Vegas, I am often called upon to comment on the many maladies that afflict the social fabric of my community. I do so recognizing one major disconnect. Over 5000 vote each month with their feet. Their votes say Las Vegas has to be doing something right because they move here. They make us the fastest growing community in the country. Often I think we should have a day to celebrate good things about Las Vegas. We don't.

People of the world vote with their feet too. They choose to come to America more than anywhere else. Fortunately we have a day to celebrate good things about America. We should. I am often a contrarian and a cynic about public policy in my country, but I shall not be so on July 4th.

As a country music fan for 50 years, I consider Robert Altman's 1975 film"Nashville," to be one of my least favorites of all time. This hideous Hollywood mockery of a popular culture form featured a song entitled"We Must Be Doing Something Right to Last 200 Years." It was a terrible song, performed in a manner to insult anyone who has enjoyed country music; yet, it carried a message that deserves some reflection. May I suggest a revised title,"We Must Be Doing Something Right to Last 225 Years?" May I suggest that on this one day of the year we identify that thing and those things that we as a nation are doing right.

Isabel Cespedes lives in Queens. She came to the United States with her husband Samuel 30 years ago from Colombia. She thinks America is doing something right. One thing she quickly mentions. No matter who you are, rich or poor, black or white, when you go to a grocery store you stand in line, and the first in line gets served first, no matter who they are.

Shirley Tomovic lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Her parents moved to Canada from Europe after the Second World War. Her uncles and brothers have moved to the United States and they all celebrate Freedom Days together (July 1-July 4). She boasts that the United States is the best neighbor that Canada or any nation could possibly have. Her family recognizes the great opportunity that comes with liberty in the United States--the freedoms to pursue choices in life are available more here than elsewhere. A fantastic sense of openness allows people to seek individual goals. People have a sense of controlling their own destinies.

This propels many to find aggressive business ventures that lead toward wealth, but not just a wealth they selfishly keep to themselves. The pursuit of the choice for wealth is effective because of something derided as"trickle down." It is not that, but rather it is a cascade as if a meteorite shower bringing increased value to a vast overwhelming majority of the American people. This spread of wealth is not some zero sum game, but for 225 years (plus) it has been a positive sum game, a game where all can be winners. And so the vast majority gain a personal sense of controlling their own destinies, and so here more than anywhere else, masses of people feel good about themselves and they feel good about life. Love of self is part of America, and it is not bad.

Because we have personal confidence, respect and love for ourselves, we have a collective confidence that allows us to feel good about others, to love others, and to help others, to voluntarily help others. One of the right things about America is that Americans give freely and openly of their time, their wealth, and indeed even of their lives to help others.

In 1861 at the age of 29 my great great uncle Richard Thompson left his wife and three children to join the Illinois Volunteers and march off to Tennessee so that freedom could be expanded and slavery ended. He fell in the Battle of Nashville. And so too in 1967 when he was called, a twenty-two year old, Ronald Colwell of Samaria, Michigan willingly answered and embraced Army life becoming an officer before he left for southeast Asia, before giving everything.

Bob Bush gave in Viet Nam and he came back. He has decided that he should not stop giving. He is a builder, but he spends much time with Habitat for Humanity. His wife's family came north from Mexico to Las Vegas where the two met. She handles one job for pay, but many jobs out of love for others in her church Family Assistance Center, with the Boys Club, and the Girls Club. She also recruits volunteers. If you're in Las Vegas and want to offer a helping hand, she'll place you, just call up for a list of opportunities.

Samuel and Isabel Cespedes' daughter Carmenza graduated from City University with a business degree and decided that she could postpone her personal quest for wealth. She joined the Peace Corps and went to Changinola, Panama where she worked with local women to help them develop an"American-type" entrepreneurial spirit in order to market their craft products effectively for profits. She now works in Brooklyn for Accion assisting small businesses with micro-loans. One loan recipient is a businessman from Libya. He loves America, because here he can really love and respect his customers, many of whom are Jewish. He tells her that in his old land he would have to hate these people, but these people are making his life a success, so he is happy to love them.

Those that give take a risk, and that is a good thing that is part of the fabric of America. It is ingrained in our people as the vast majority of those here were somewhere else before, and they suffered many risks to be here. So too do people who move from one location to another within our country in a quest to better themselves, and in turn to better their communities. People strive for change to be better, and so too they encourage their country to change for the better also.

We are a nation of many other nations, but we are not just a melting pot, we are also a mosaic of peoples. In another country peoples from other places like the Cespedes family--which still speaks Spanish in their home--would be Colombians. Here they are that but they are also Americans. I get the same sense about people riding the R train to Manhattan. They have a look suggesting they are so many nationalities, but they are acting the same--rushing about, boarding, standing, taking seats, exiting the train--they are acting as Americans.

Our country celebrates the American peoples from the whole world in its music, in its literature, and its life styles. Twenty-five years ago, July 4th fell on a Sunday. I attended services at the Westwood United Methodist Church in Kalamazoo. It was bicentennial day. But we did not sing"God Bless America;" maybe pastor Alan McCreedy felt that would be provincial. We didn't sing"America the Beautiful;" maybe he felt that would be a bit haughty. We didn't sing"The Star Spangled Banner;" I don't think Alan relished lines about bombs bursting in air. We did sing"Finlandia," by Sibelius. I was taken aback, and I was a little disappointed. But as I have been preparing this column, I have thought about it again, and I think that it is a good song to sing on July 4. Maybe that song is our national anthem too. It tells of a beautiful land with blue skies and wonderful people who love their land; but then it also tells that other countries are beautiful, and that other people love their lands too. And so it is that Americans can look toward the beauty of the entire world, and the wonderful peoples of other lands who love their lands still, even though they came to America for respect, freedom, openness, opportunity to be better, and opportunity to do better for others.

We've lasted 225 years. We are doing a lot of things right. But you ask, does this mean we are perfect? It's July 4, you're damn right we're perfect!

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