Checks, balances steer America through troubled times
U.S. not perfect, but 'light shines bright'
An essay by
November 28, 1996
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As Americans, this is the day we remember the pilgrims -- the first illegal immigrants, you could say.
They brought some ideas, like freedom, which we still value. They did not bring others ideas we have come to need, like tolerance. Roger Williams disagreed with the majority in Massachusetts over religion and established Rhode Island so that he could be free, his way.
We have been trying to reconcile these ideas ever since. We believe in freedom, but we do not, cannot believe in uniformity because we have come from so many different places, different religions, different languages, different cultures. Instead, we are bound together by a Constitution designed to protect those differences, to let us each live our lives as long as we don't stop our fellow citizens from living their's.
We don't always live by our Constitution, of course. For centuries, some Americans were slaves. Some immigrant groups sought acceptance unsuccessfully for a time. Signs at work sites read, "No Irish need apply," for instance. Jews faced discrimination often. Some Asian immigrants still do, and it would be foolish to argue that black Americans share fully in the American ideal.
But if you're an optimist, you have to believe we get better at living our Constitution, at being real Americans. Legal segregation ended in the South; black Americans vote and hold high office. So we move forward, in fits and starts, to be sure, and with some violence, though mostly in peace.
It's not a perfect country, but its lamp shines brightly enough that others from around the world still want to come and share its light, more immigrants, following those first ones. Maybe that is a reason for thanks.
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