I have a theory that each model of government requires of it's adherents an attitude which correlates with it's essential nature in order for it to operate at an optimum level. For instance, a genuine monarchy, an essentially conservative form of government, cannot function beautifully unless the majority of subjects at every socio-economic level are conservative in the most salutary sense of the word. Likewise, a democracy, because it is a fundamentally liberal form of government, cannot achieve it's full potential until the majority of it's citizens are truly liberal. Where government is concerned, the highest form is that which makes the people as a whole most contented, most creative and most virtuous. I think it would be quite possible to make a convincing argument for the soundness of both monarchy and democracy on the basis of that criterion.
The problem with America is that a slender but perennial majority of it's citizens labor under the burden of being forced to endure the rule of a liberal form of government while clinging to more or less conservative convictions. They are therefore constantly attempting to wrench American polity away from it's liberal constitutional foundations in order to tell everyone what to do and think, in accordance with their understanding of traditional values. Yet, at the same time, their patriotism (a profoundly conservative virtue) compels them to pay homage to the very constitution that undercuts their most cherished political inclinations. That is a formula for crazy, and it works! This is why we have a huge chunk of fundamentalist, yokel citizenry which hates and mistrusts it's duly elected government, yet considers itself fiercely patriotic. They have homes full of firearms against the day they will have to do battle against their overbearing, socialist leaders; yet they are ready to kill and die at the drop of a hat whenever those same leaders tell them to. This is why American democracy is so very slow to progress, and so very slow to outgrow it's vices, the foremost of which is war: a huge group of Americans who hate America need to prove they love America by continuously inventing and destroying her enemies. Even domestic policy initiatives are dubbed "wars" by their promoters: the "war on drugs", for example.
This is depressing for liberals like myself. But in the interests of balance, positive thinking, and Independence Day, here is a list of the 25 people and things which reveal to me personally, in one way or another and in no particular order of precedence, the distinctive beauty and quirky sublimity of the American Spirit. (There are so many more, of course. What's on your list?)
1. Walt Whitman
2. Jazz and Blues
4. Bob Dylan
5. Bruce Springsteen
6. Martin Luther King Jr.
7. Joan Baez
8. Johnny Cash
9. Emily Dickinson
10. John Muir
11. Thomas Merton
13. Rock'n'Roll and Folk-Rock
15. The National Parks
16. Clint Eastwood (That's what I said!)
18. Comic Books and Cartoons
19. Billy Holiday
20. Duke Ellington
21. NYC (The quintessential American melting-pot)
22. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I just had to stick that in!)
23. Katherine Jefferts Schori (Yeah, I really think so!)
25. The Beats
So Happy Birthday, America! Please try to behave.