Two decades ago, a plane touched down on the East Coast with an Indian child on board. For the past year, all he’d ever known was the sun streaming through the orphanage window in India’s Tamil Nadu province. As the plane’s wheels hit the ground, he could not possibly have known how much this new country would not only give him opportunities his birth mother could only have dreamt of, but change him, at the deepest possible level.
On that day, twenty years ago, something truly strange and wonderful happened. I became an American.
My background’s a bizarre one: I’m technically an immigrant but with almost zero of the characteristics that normally define immigrants. Yet, that background has proven to be a lens through which I view a tremendous amount of issues, from American exceptionalism to our modern racial debates. And it’s been a unique angle from which to view the current moment—a moment in which Americans are increasingly convinced that our nation is in mortal peril. Everywhere I look, I’m told America’s on the tipping point of anarchy, be it an insufficient amount of state-sponsored Catholicism, an overwhelming tsunami of Republican-sponsored white supremacy, or a growing amount of threats to the country’s fragile liberal order.
Truth be told, I’m a pessimist. As I tell my optimist friends, this is a tactical decision: I’m either being proven right or pleasantly surprised all the time. Yet, strangely enough, this pessimism doesn’t always apply to America. It’s possible this whole thing goes into the ditch with a tyrannical flourish… and yet. And yet the promise of America still holds true to me as an enduring promise—that’s what my background’s made abundantly clear to me in these past 20 years.
Part of the beauty of not being born in America is the ability to understand, through personal experience, that America’s greatness is not found solely in its ability to elevate prosperous people to more prosperity. Our greatness is also found in our ability to elevate the people who were born with nothing to unimaginable success. Without America, and without the Christianity of my adoptive parents and community (which we’ll get to), I’d still be a Third World orphan.
I’m not naive about the disparities. I understand American privilege isn’t distributed equally and that we’ve got real work to do on the social mobility front. But I try every day to also not be jaded about the opportunities. American individualism and dynamism helped make me who I am, and it’d be more naive to pretend that those values haven’t increased the upward trajectory of my life, to say nothing of millions of others who weren’t born here but share in the greatness of this crazy experiment that began almost 250 years ago.
I wouldn’t be here, let alone at the level of flourishing that allows me to do things like attend a private liberal arts college, without the signature, oft-maligned, but perennially dependable American confidence in ideals—the blessed nerve of believing in this experiment enough to encourage people to assimilate into it. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be here without the value system of Christianity that teaches the goodness of adoption and raising children to live in a way that pleases a God above all earthly powers.
It’s impossible to look back at the past 20 years without an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the philosophies that, directly or otherwise, brought me here. It’s the kind of gratitude that serves as a buoying contrast to what’s commonly termed doomerism—the fatalist outlook on all the world’s problems that sees the future as an inevitable slide into failure. I was born on the unforgiving streets of the Third World, and by a bizarre series of events (a story device we annoying Calvinists call Providence) have the capacity to actually spend the rest of my life doing something at least close to where my passions and interests lie and be paid to do so. That kind of upward mobility doesn’t leave me much reason to be a doomer. It leaves me no excuse not to spend my life trying to make America better, regardless of where those problems come from.
The extreme progressive fringe gets it wrong when it depicts America as a land of irredeemable prejudice and division that must be denounced, instead of an imperfect but striving nation that’s offered true progress and real happiness to billions of people. America’s future isn’t its past—thinking otherwise is an insult to the meaning of our creeds. The extreme fringe of the right gets it wrong when it depicts America as an example of the failures of liberalism, the symptoms of which can only be treated by increases in state power and/or the convenient restructuring of our Constitutional order in keeping with the wills of religious-nationalist ideologues. Such utopian visions are not the path to making life better for ordinary Americans, and certainly not under the auspices of their current advocates.
My life has been a twenty-plus-year process of realizing how far I’ve come and how far I can go in the greatest nation on earth. Having hope for the future of America means realizing how far we’ve come and how far we can go with the tremendous civilizational gift we’ve been given. To me, that’s the American promise—if that promise fails, we’re not going to find a better one.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.