NOVEMBER 24, 2017 BY PAUL BUDLINE
This is the time of year when many Americans sit back and watch Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ For some of us, it will be for the tenth or twentieth time.
You probably know the story. Ambitious and adventurous George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, suffers a string of bad breaks and is actually considering ending his life. Fortunately for George, his quirky little guardian angel Clarence Odbody intervenes with a genius solution.
The not-exactly-angelic-looking angel decides to show George what life in Bedford Falls would have been like had he never been born, and how his decency and goodness made his town such a far better place. Clarence, of course, earned his wings, and many of us shed more than a few tears.
Now, let your imagination run wild for a moment. Substitute the United States of America for George Bailey, and the Planet Earth for Bedford Falls.
Right now the USA is somewhat troubled, even despondent. A large number of Americans despise the president and all those who voted for him, while others believe he’s the perfect guy for the job. Both sides of the ideological spectrum share the same land and language and currency, but we are as divided as any time since the Vietnam era.
Meanwhile, polls show that most Americans say the country is on the “wrong track.” Our cities are plagued with violence and many rural areas are suffering from malaise and joblessness and drug addiction. Summing it up, to borrow from Dickens, these are not the best of times in wide swaths of the USA.
But what if Clarence the angel suddenly reappeared to show us what the world would be like if there had never been a United States of America?
This is not an original exercise – conservative Dinesh D’Souza actually made a movie with a similar premise. It was widely mocked by our chattering classes, denounced as a “laughable embarrassment” and “the worst political documentary of all time.”
But in fact, it is worth remembering that America – both the idea and the nation – were born at a time when life expectancy was about 40, when women routinely died in childbirth, when disease was rampant and poverty endemic. There were no cars or street lights, let alone phones that allow us to instantaneously scour the world’s entire accumulated knowledge.
In just over two centuries, American genius, capitalism, liberty, and free markets have gifted the world with miracles that even H.G. Wells could not envision. The poorest among us are able to live longer, more prosperous, disease-free lives than the richest kings of ancient Europe and Africa.
It’s easy to argue that all of the advances would have come about anyway, whether or not there had ever been such a thing as the USA. But never forget that, prior to the Declaration and Constitution, the vast majority of the world was ruled by despots and tyrants, kings and queens.
As Thomas Hobbes wrote in 1651, most humans endured lives that were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes felt this was simply the natural state of mankind, but all that changed dramatically with a radical idea promulgated by some revolutionary men across the ocean.
If there were no America, perhaps Europe would still be under the thumb of royal families. Maybe Karl Marx’s odious ideology would have destroyed even more lives across the world than it did. Hitler, Stalin, or others like them, may have ruled the world with unimaginable savagery and brutality.
Unfortunately, there is no Clarence to show us exactly what the world would be like without the United States of America.
A few Americans on the far left feel the USA is inherently evil, a malignancy on the human condition. But most of us firmly believe that America, for all its obvious flaws, despite its treatment of Indians and slaves, is the single greatest experiment that ever was. And, yes, the greatest force for good in the history of humanity.
We are blessed to inhabit this magnificent country, fortunate that some extraordinarily brave men risked everything in their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Not only for themselves but for all their progeny.
For that, we can all be very thankful. Not just this week or this holiday season, but every single day of our lives.