A Benevolent Empire

I recently wrote a scholarship essay with the prompt to write a 250–500 word speech to the assembled members of the United States Congress. I thought it was worth sharing with you.

Since the end of World War II, America has been insulated from the world’s many calamities. The carnage of the Cold War played out in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa. We have been spared widespread famine since The Great Depression. And the infectious diseases that regularly ravage the rest of the world have until now left us unscathed for a century. The relative comfort we’ve lived in for three generations has lulled us into a false sense of security. We read about the horrors in other parts of the world and thought “that will never happen here.” Yet our twin oceans could not protect us forever.

Our comfort has allowed us to concern ourselves more with ideological purity than effective leadership. We’ve cared more about the acquisition of power than the use of it. As such, we’ve descended into partisanship and petty bickering over trivial issues. Let this virus be our wake up call. We are all Democrats, we are all Republicans. May we remember that more unites us than divides us. May we remember that well-meaning people can disagree on major issues. And may we remember that we need each other, even more so when we disagree.

Indeed, it should be clear to us now that we can’t afford the luxury of bickering any longer. America’s position on top of the world is not guaranteed. If we allow ourselves to stagnate, we will fall like every great nation before us. Perhaps I’m an idealist but I still believe there’s something fundamental that distinguishes America from the great nations of bygone eras. Ours is a nation founded, not on an ethnic or regional identity, but on a set of ideals. This set of ideals, freedom, justice, and equality before the law, were conceived from the beginning as the universal aspirations of humanity. To be sure, America has not always lived up to those ideals. The evils of slavery and segregation cannot be overstated, our treatment of Native Americans can rightly be called a genocide, and the images of what we inflicted on the people of Vietnam should forever haunt our collective conscience.

In this, America is not unique. Even a cursory glance at humanity’s recorded history reveals many horrors. No nation’s history is without its blights. Yet I still believe our future can be better than our past. This crisis should wake us up to the need to build that future. We should see now that, though our influence has begun to wane, we still have a chance to lead the world into that future. Let us not abdicate that responsibility. Rather, let us lead. Not as exporters of war, but as exporters of wisdom. Not as purveyors of violence but as purveyors of justice. Though we may fall short at times, let our failures not be from lack of trying. Though perfection is the province of God alone, let ours be the first nation in history that can rightly be called a benevolent empire.