November 24, 2015 | Commentary on Political Thought, Democracy and Human Rights, Civil Society

Restoring a sense of gratitude

Many Americans still believe in this nation's enduring principles. It's easy, alas, for our gratitude to become perfunctory — more something we say than something we feel. But take it from someone who has traveled to many countries: A look at what some people around the globe endure can make your appreciation genuine.

Examples abound, but consider this item from The Economist:

"Earlier this year the Chinese government arrested five women who were campaigning against sexual harassment on buses. This was not because China's leaders believe that groping is a good thing, or that it is acceptable if perpetrated on public transport. It was because the Communist Party is wary of any organization it does not control.

"The five feminists were entirely peaceful, and they were not advocating anything subversive like democracy. But they were organized and demonstrating in public, and that made them seem dangerous. After a month in detention they were released on bail, but they remain under police surveillance and could still be hauled back to face elastic charges such as 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble.' "

Most of us wouldn't think twice about supporting or even organizing a peaceful demonstration. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution recognizes our right to do so. But not in China (and some other countries as well). There, your government looks at you with suspicion and expects you to fall in line. Don't make waves, even if that means putting up with humiliation and harassment. Without question, we can be thankful we're free to speak up.

But wait, some may say. Haven't there been dark periods in our history when even peaceful demonstrators have been mistreated by those under color of authority? Sadly, yes. But these abuses have been rightly denounced and corrected. True, not always as quickly as we'd like. But the fact remains that they have.

You can't flout the Constitution indefinitely. We live in a nation of laws, laws designed to promote and protect liberty, and those laws are enforced. Imperfectly at times, of course — we're still governed by human beings as fallible as ourselves. But the mere fact that we can make changes, that we can fix things, is a great blessing — one that is denied to many people worldwide. We should certainly thank God for that.

The fight for freedom, however, is never really settled once and for all. The question is, are we winning or losing? You can find many prophets of doom and gloom, and to be fair, some of them raise valid concerns. But I can't count myself among their number.

Yes, we can look at the bureaucratic power grabs in Washington, and the paralysis of political correctness that inflicts many campuses, and feel a sense of despair. But the fact is, most Americans still endorse the ideas our country was founded on, from limited constitutional government and free enterprise, to individual opportunity and a culture of responsibility.

Being an optimist is never easy, and it's rarely fashionable. But I remember what Ronald Reagan said so many times: "Trust the people." That's my policy, too.

It would be easy to lose hope and resign ourselves to a future of decline and mediocrity. Well, our country's problems are serious, but they are not insurmountable. They can be solved.

Some Americans may have lost faith in the future. But a greater number still believe in this nation, in its enduring principles, and in its unlimited promise.

That's reason alone, as we enjoy our turkey and parades, to be truly thankful.

-Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Times