A Nation Based on An Idea
One thing I like to do when I'm bored is taking personality tests. It used to be that the only way to get these was from silly magazines or from overly serious psychologists, but thanks to the internet, a multitude of personality tests can be taken for free.
There are tests which tell you which character you would be in Lost, what American president you would be best friends with, and how sexually pure you are. And, of course, there are tests to measure how patriotic you are as an American (don't you just love the internet's United States-bias?.
For the fun of it, I took an American patriotism test. The test rates you on four criteria: how far you agree with the philosophies America is founded on; how proud you are of America/being American; how much you exercise the freedoms you have as an American; and whether you are an American citizen.
Naturally, I failed the last criterion, and I got around 50% to 60% on most of the others. But surprisingly, the test's final answer climactically stated that what defines you as an American and an American patriot is not how far you love America the country, but America the ideal. The author stated he believed there were American patriots who had never set foot in the United States, simply because they share the ideals America was founded on.
The United States of America is a nation unlike any other. It doesn't have a clean history — I had a lot of fun choosing answers like "No, the white settlers were not justified in driving out the Native Americans" and "No, the Spanish-American war was not justified".
But despite that ignominious past, the US is pretty special because, as the guy who wrote the test observed, it is founded on a set of principles and ideals about liberty and freedom.
Few other countries can say that about themselves. Most countries were founded or gained independence for the sake of doing so; national pride was a reason in itself to have a country.
But the Americans, despite their patently immoral behaviour at times, founded a country based on cherished tenets such as the ideal that all men are created equal (even though initially this really meant white men who owned land) and have the right to be free in the pursuit of happiness.
Few other countries have a national ideology that is as profound as the "American Dream", which in itself is derived from the American belief that they have the freedom to do what they will in the pursuit of happiness, as long as it does not infringe on anyone else's rights.
America is a country founded on an idea. And even though they don't always live up to that idea, it's what's made them a beacon of hope to immigrants around the world, and that is what makes America great — even if it is not always great.