America is exceptional – it’s our duty to keep it that wayFeb 08, 2024 02:40PM ● By Yemi Arunsi
There is much at stake in 2024, and contrary to popular belief, it transcends elections; it’s about salvaging the heart of our nation.
Growing up in Nigeria, I had a front-row seat to the tumult that plagues so many countries. I vividly recall violent military coups – the streets ablaze with rioting and bloodshed. But being a New York native born to immigrant parents, I knew there was a better way. The “shining city upon a hill” wasn’t a cliché, it was a haven where I could escape chaos and be amongst the best and the brightest, the brave and the free.
Yet I often find myself wondering aloud, “Is this the same America that is so relentlessly criticized by our own citizens?” I can’t turn on the TV or scroll through social media without seeing a wealthy celebrity or athlete lamenting about how terrible our nation is and how we must atone for our existence. They paint a picture of a country full of warmongering, racism, and hyper-capitalism. Day in and day out, they needlessly feed into this narrative – and they couldn’t be more wrong.
America may be a work in progress, but I can assure you, she truly is exceptional.
It isn’t because of her beauty from sea to shining sea or even the liberties we enjoy. Is it a product of our powerful military presence? Of course not. By that standard, Russia and China would be ranked right behind us on a list of the best countries in the world.
The exceptionalism of America hinges upon the virtues our forefathers passed down from generation to generation – even to immigrants like my own mother and father. They may not have shared the English heritage or devout Protestant roots of the first pilgrim, but our country has always been a symbol of what can be achieved with tireless work and cooperation. There are opportunities for anyone determined enough to reach for the seemingly impossible.
Yes, we have our challenges. There is divisiveness across every race, religion, socioeconomic status, and political party. Even in our nation’s capital, lawmakers aren’t immune to hostility, as was evident in the events of the past year.
But I’d argue that we don’t need a modification of our values to fix our problems – we need a return to them.
Our society cannot withstand the continuous departure from what it means to be an American. We must be a nation that upholds shared values, and Utah is a microcosm that exemplifies how opportunities abound in this type of society. Gov. Spencer Cox launched the Disagree Better initiative to encourage all of us to disagree with ideas, not people. He aptly put it this way: “…nothing is less American than hating our fellow Americans. But harnessing our differences to get things done – that’s as American as it gets.”
Just as peace and safety cannot be preserved solely by the creation of more laws, the rights and freedoms outlined in the Constitution cannot be preserved by the Supreme Court alone. It’s up to all of us to preserve the way of life we know and love. It is up to us to pass down greatness to future generations.
Now is the time for a righteous stand and a resurgence of what defines us as Americans: ideas, growth, and acceptance. Liberty and justice for all.
Despite formidable differences, I hope we can unite to teach our children and our children’s children the importance of our civic heritage, instilling a deep appreciation for what it means to be an American.
As the late John McCain once said, "Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again."
I pray that we will in the year ahead.
Yemi Arunsi works in healthcare leadership in Salt Lake City and as a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force Reserve. He also currently serves as Chair of the Davis County Republican Party.