A short list. In no particular order.
We told our children that any child could grow up to be President. And then we made it come true.
We had car shows, boat shows, beauty shows and dog shows.
We ran robots on the surface of Mars by remote control.
Our women came from all over the world in all shapes and sizes and hues and scents.
We actually believed that all men are created equal and tried to make it come true.
Everybody liked our movies and loved our television shows.
We tried to educate everybody, whether they wanted it or not. Sometimes we succeeded.
We did Levis.
We held the torch high and hundreds of millions came. No matter what the cost.
We saved Europe twice and liberated it once.
We believed so deeply and so abidingly in free speech that we protected and honored and, in some cases, even elected traitors.
We let you be as freaky as you wanted to be.
We paid you not to plant crops and not to work.
We died in the hundreds of thousands to end slavery here. And when that was done continued to fight to end slavery for a century and a half after all around the world.
We invented Jazz.
We wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg address.
We went to the moon to see how far we could hit a golf ball.
We lifted a telescope into orbit that could see to the edge of the universe.
When people snuck into the country against our laws, we made parking lots and food stands off to the side of the road so they wouldn’t get hurt, and we let them use our hospitals for free, and we made their children citizens.
We didn’t care what God you worshipped as long as we could worship ours.
We let the People arm themselves at will. Just to make sure.
We gave everybody the vote.
We built Disneyworld. Just for fun.
We had a revolution so successful it was still going strong two and a quarter centuries later.
We had so many heroes, even at the end, that we felt free to hate them and burn them in effigy.
We electrified the guitar.
We invented a music so compelling that it rocked the world.
We had some middling novelists.
We had some interesting painters.
We had some pretty good poets.
We had better songwriters.
We ran our farms so well we fed the globe.
We made the automobile and the airplane.
We let you get rich. Really, really rich.
We didn’t care who you were or what you were or where you came from or who your parents were. We just cared about what you made or what you did.
We had poor people who, even at their most wretched, were richer than any other poor people on the face of the planet.
We were the noblest nation the world had ever known.
We had so much freedom that many of us voted to just throw it all away.
Even towards the end, as we dissolved into the petty bickering and idle entertainments that come with having far too much leisure and money, many among us were still striving to make it higher, finer, brighter, better, and more beautiful.
Even towards the end, the best of us declined to give up and pressed on. “Where to? What next?”
[First published 2007]