What is so great about America?

What’s so great about America?

The unemployment rate in the United States has hit a 26 year high, with 14.9 million Americans out of work. Our national debt recently hit a record $11 trillion. President Obama's approval rating has fallen more steeply than any other newly elected president (ABCNEWS.com/Tapper/09/02/09). And nations all around the world believe we are big, bad bullies.

Newspapers, magazines, and the airwaves are filled with stories about “America’s demise.”
Hollywood directors and stars spend more time on political soapboxes, often spouting unpatriotic or idiotic statements, than in making quality films.
Many disheartened, disgusted, down-trodden Americans are looking around their neighborhoods and noticing rows of repossessed homes and failed businesses and they worry that America has lost her edge. They read about policemen posted in elementary schools, elderly folks too poor to pay for prescriptions, and homeless freezing to death on the streets, and they wonder, “What is so great about America?”

I pondered the answers to this question today and found myself going back in time, to my childhood.

I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, in the shadow and amidst the exhaust fumes of the Jeep Plant and the Dupont Chemical Factory. Back then, Toledo was a small mid-western town filled with honest, hard-working, blue-collar folks of Polish, German, or Irish descent. They worked for the railroad, automobile or glass factories, or the port authority.

I spent summers fishing or swimming in the lake or riding my bike through one of the parks along the Maumee River. I collected old soda bottles and turned them in for cash so I could buy a foot long donut at Hinkle’s or a hot dog at Rudy’s. I went on class field trips to the Toledo Art Museum, where I marveled at the thousand-year old mummy, and Fort Meigs, a battlefield from the War of 1812.

Some of the people who know me today might find it difficult to imagine that I came from humble, hearty, salt-of-the-earth stock, but I did.
Before I became a polished, pampered, well-traveled woman, I was a poor mid-western girl in pigtails and overalls who loved catching fireflies and putting them in mason jars, listening to the accordion music at the Polish Festival, and watching the glass blowers at a local museum twist and turn molten sand into spectacular objects. Sure, I have traded my overalls for designer denim and my pigtails for a sleek ponytail, but deep inside of me beats the heart of a simple, proud, patriotic mid-western girl.
I love that I was born in Toledo. Not because it is home to one of the oldest minor league baseball teams in the nation (Go Mud Hens!) nor because it has grown from a sleepy little town to the fourth largest city in Ohio. I do not proudly claim Toledo as my hometown because of its world class art museum nor because Jamie Farr brought it (and Tony Packo’s, a Hungarian hot dog joint located on the east side of town) fame by repeatedly mentioning it on the television show M*A*S*H.

I am proud to be from Toledo because it represents the best characteristics of America. It is a city, struggling valiantly to survive in a changing world, defiantly hanging on and adapting. Toledo is located smack dab in the middle of the rust belt – so in the middle, in fact, one might say it is the belt buckle. Mighty industrial corporations that manufactured glass, carriages, car parts, furniture, scales, and chemicals have closed their factories. Their smoke stacks have ceased to belch great, thick gray clouds, their work whistles have fallen silent. Their buildings and warehouses stand empty and ominous, time and the elements mercilessly disfiguring their once great facades. Like snapshots of an aging, forgotten film star, they are pathetic reminders of a glorious past. Even though thousands of workers have lost their jobs and the city has lost its ranking as one of America’s great industrial centers, it is far from being dead. Like any seasoned middle-weight, it gets knocked down, but not out. When the Jeep Parkway plant was closed, an editor at the Toledo Blade wrote:

"To the tens of thousands of workers who turned out 11 million cars and trucks there for more than nine decades, the closing of the Jeep Parkway plant this week will seem like the loss of an old friend. Sadness abounds for the passing not only of the familiar West Toledo factory with its trademark brick smokestacks but also for the demise of a rich slice of American culture embodied in what once seemed like an unending stream of good-paying industrial jobs. We may never see their like again on the same grand economic scale, but Toledo still has its Jeep, in spirit as well as steel, sheet metal, and rubber. The building may disappear, but the spirit will never die." Toledo Blade, 28 June 2006

It’s that proud, resilient, never-say-die spirit that makes Toledo a great city and America a great nation. That spirit is what saw us through the bitterly cold nights at Valley Forge, the devastating, hungry years of the Great Depression, and those horrendous days following the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center. That spirit motivated the men who stormed the beaches on D-Day (and helped liberate most of Europe). It is the same unflinching-in-the-face-of-peril spirit that is motivating the men and women serving in Afghanistan.

Accuse me of being a Pollyanna, of looking at my corner of the world through rose colored glasses, but I believe that tough, brave, determined spirit exists in most Americans. I believe it is a part of our DNA.

Although I have only been back to my hometown once in twenty years, I still consider myself a Toledoan and I still consider it one of the best cities in America.


The University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University received grants recently for solar and environmental research. So, a town that once manufactured as much pollution as it did consumer products is now transforming itself into a center for the research and development of green products.

What is so great about America? Its citizens. We are resourceful, ambitious, hard-working, enterprising, and indomitable. We are capable of weathering any storm because we draw on our strengths and never, never say quit. Give us a beachhead and we will take it (retreat is not in our vocabulary or history). Give us darkness and we will invent a light bulb. Give us lemons and we will create bottled lemonade manufactured and distributed worldwide. And, give us a down-trodden, rusty old industrial town and we will transform it into a revitalized center for new age research.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm reading "What's So Great About America," by Dinesh D'Souza. Highly recommend it you and all your blogsters.