An e-mail chain currently making the rounds asks the question: "What do you love about America?" There are some terrific answers. Among my favorites are: The Grambling State University Marching Band, Times Square, overpriced coffee, 7th Avenue Park Slope, Thelonius Monk, Johnny Cash, Sandra Bullock and — of course — The Cosby Show.
To this growing list I would add: Western films, cheeseburgers, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, Count Basie and, most of all, American idealism.
I love that Americans are not afraid to dream big dreams. Our idealism is the source of our can do spirit; it is the foundation of our charity. It is an integral part of the American character and one of the strengths of this nation. In spite of differences in race, gender, ethnicity or politics, one thing we have in common is that as Americans we are willing to reach beyond ourselves to make the impossible real. It has been that way since the founding.
Abraham Lincoln wrote that all nations have a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate. In America that central idea is equality.
The theme is repeated in the keystone document of our republic: "All men are created equal" and granted certain rights by God. From this central idea flow the revolutionary ideas of government by consent, the right to private property and religious tolerance.
Natural rights and self-government were not new ideas. They had existed in the world of philosophy for hundreds of years. It was, however, the American aspiration to some more perfect form of governance that led to us using these principles as the foundation upon which to build a new nation. If not for this idealistic pursuit, the principles of human equality would have perhaps remained mere pretty words.
Though idealism is our strength, it has often outstripped our capacity to reach it at the time.
Even as this nation struggled with the institution of slavery, we continued to aspire to something greater. The power of American idealism inspired Abraham Lincoln to call the nation to a "New birth of freedom."
One hundred years later that baton of idealism was carried by Martin Luther King Jr., who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke of his dream of a day when men would be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Americans are still dreaming big dreams. Forty years after King weaved our idealism into poetry, men and women all across the country are building businesses that create jobs and wealth; they are giving their time and money to support churches, charities, culture, arts and education in their communities. What I love about America is that we are a people always looking ahead, reaching out, fighting, scratching and clawing ever forward toward something that is greater than ourselves.
Joseph C. Phillips is an actor/ writer based in Los Angeles.