We Must Remember, Too
License plates in Quebec have a slogan "Je souviens," French for "I remember."What do Quebecois remember? Their French heritage, surrounded by Anglophone North America. Rooted in language, religion, and their provincial legal system, Quebec resisted the dominant English-Protestant Canadian culture to the point of coming very close to breaking away as a separate nation in 1995.
License plates in Quebec have a slogan "Je souviens," French for "I remember."
What do Quebecois remember? Their French heritage, surrounded by Anglophone North America.
Rooted in language, religion, and their provincial legal system, Quebec resisted the dominant English-Protestant Canadian culture to the point of coming very close to breaking away as a separate nation in 1995.
Within the United States is a growing movement of people who -- while we haven't articulated a slogan like the Quebecois -- also remember.
I remember a can-do nation that routinely accomplished the impossible: a nation that defeated dictators then rebuilt the conquered countries into economic powerhouses, a nation that introduced -- and exported -- the highest standard of living the world has ever known, a nation that righted its injustices, sent men to the moon, completed through its interstate highway system the largest public works project ever, developed an incredible freight railroad system (and after recovering from regulatory destruction, rebuilt it into the world's best).
I remember a nation that built great domestic waterways, joined the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by canal at Panama and by rail at Utah, launched the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, gave us the electric light, the telephone, the mass produced automobile, the airplane, seemingly miraculous medical advances.
I remember a nation where one's word and promise outweighed multi-paged contracts. Where national slogans, education, and entertainment proclaimed faith in God and allegiance to country. Where there was a concept of decency. And its counterpart, shame. Where children were free to roam the streets without fear ("Just be home when the streetlights go on, dear"), where fathers were portrayed as heroes, not fools.
I remember the concept of sportsmanship, where athletes displayed humility (I recall Detroit Tigers great Al Kaline saying one of his last contracts -- for probably about $700,000 in today's money -- was excessive), where police and teachers exercised discretion and judgment (without the robotic "zero tolerance" nonsense whisking children off in handcuffs), where parents supported teachers rather than suing them and teachers supported parents rather than undermining them.
Of course it wasn't perfect. There was crime. There was legalized discrimination. There were political scandals. Watch old Jimmy Stewart in 1939's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and you'll see familiar corruption.
But there was an underlying identity of what it was to be an American and no apology was necessary for being one.
I remember a nation that protected the feeble and unborn. Where those with severe mental illness were in custodial care instead of wandering homeless on the streets in the name of some ill-directed freedom. And consciences were respected, unlike today when the jobs of health care professionals are in jeopardy if they dare refuse to perform abortions and Catholic bishops speak openly of resisting government.
I remember a nation where immigrants rushed to immerse themselves in the new culture and language. (Recently arrived in Detroit from rural Quebec, my grandmother told my grandfather: "Go to the store for me. I can't speak English." Replied Grandpa: "Go yourself. You need to learn." She did). Although their accents retained the stamp of what they called the "old country," the voices of immigrants proudly proclaimed "I am an American." And there was no hyphen.
I remember a nation that emphasized duty, whether to the nation, the community or the family. Where couples often stayed together in unhappy marriages to spare their children the unspeakable pain of a broken home. These parents were people of honor, who knew they had responsibilities despite the common nonsense about throwing away their lives and that children were resilient and could handle divorce. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Awhile back, I was speaking with a thirty-something relative about the paintings of Norman Rockwell. "Oh, they were just showing an idealized country," she said. "No," I responded. "They showed the way things were." She was shocked. Another young woman I know blogged that she was sorry she had been born too late to experience a place she had heard about, a place of honor and decency.
Indeed. There was such a place. And it's still in the hearts of many. America.
Mike Landry is a university business professor who blogs at Wildcat Creek Review.