American: Relating to or characteristic of the United States or its inhabitants.
Experience: Practical contact with and observation of facts or events in life.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
– From The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
I am not sure that there is “the,” as in one, American experience. Or, perhaps, more truly said, I am sure that there is not.
For not every man, woman, and child who, from the dawn of the founding of this nation, has claimed American citizenship and those who could not, in times past, was able to say and, in times present, is able to say and, I aver, given the imperfections of humankind and government, in times to come, will be able to say: “I, in my living, have experienced the ideals of The Declaration of Independence.”
For the fulfillment of these sacred national, communal vows has been, is, and will be ever subject to the vagaries of personal, individual time and place, culture and ethnicity, race and clan, gender and creed, economics and politics, and a host of other elements that define and describe what it is to be human.
As I believe this to be true, then, again, there is not and cannot be “the” American experience. Rather, there are manifold American experiences, which means, I think, that America remains, not an experience, but rather an experiment.
Experiment: A procedure, scientific, systematic, undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known or assumed fact.
With the coming and passing of the Fourth of July national holiday (or, as I’m wont to say, our national holy day), America entered the 244th year of experimentation.
As I look to our national government and listen to our leaders, I am alarmed.
For when the President of the United States, and, not he alone, but others in leadership positions, both Republicans and Democrats, express themselves, with regularity and impunity (there being few voices of restraint in any corner) in ad hominem attacks on their perceived opponents (enemies!) and employing the crassest of terms, our American experiment is failing.
And when bipartisanship is an ancient, barely remembered idea, a dusty relic of bygone eras when legislative cooperation was not only feasible, but commendable, our American experiment is failing.
And when civility is sacrificed and condemned to hang from the scaffold of political expediency and when principled integrity that seeks and strives to serve the common good is enfettered in partisan chains in prisons of public cowardice, our American experiment is failing.
And when we cry, “America first!” seemingly forgetting or refusing to remember that none of us, no, not one of us came from a line of those who were first, save those native to this land, and, thus, in our conscious amnesia, treat others who would come as “the other” and, therefore, beyond our interest and care, but not beneath our contempt, our American experiment is failing.
And I fear for America.