The ideal of freedom that America stands for is not merely license to ‘do whatever one feels like’, and it is not merely the negative ‘freedom from’ being told what to do. Nor is it merely the freedom to get and spend and satisfy any and every mundane desire of the body. The freedom that most mattered to the founders, and that ought to matter most to all of us, is the freedom of the mind: a mind unconstrained by the religious, philosophical or political beliefs of others, the freedom to form one’s own ideas and beliefs, the freedom to pursue what is good, meaningful, and true, the freedom (to use Emerson’s words) to pursue “wisdom, and power, and beauty”.
The ideal of equality that America stands for is not synonymous with ‘sameness’, it is not a force for leveling everyone down to the lowest common denominator, nor is it merely the right of everyone to go shopping and obtain the same ‘stuff’. Equality means protecting and encouraging everyone’s chance to pursue what is best and highest in themselves, to find what brings them the most genuine happiness, to have every possibility for worldly achievement and inner achievement.
America was consciously designed as a place where ideals like freedom and equality could be pursued, where the quest for what Socrates called “the Good” would be encouraged. America was created as a place where all human beings could gather together and this pursuit would be protected. This, and only this, is what makes America special and unique. We are no different than any other people in any other time or in any other country – but no other nation has ever had this obligation to the human spirit.
Because we have often betrayed these ideals is not a reason to reject the ideals themselves, nor is it a reason to give up hope for the possibility of fulfilling these ideals in the future.