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A Confession of Love To The Paradox That Is America

Andrew Sullivan sees the essence of America’s strength as it’s constitutional Burkean conservatism:

I’ve learnt over the years that the constitutional system that seems designed to prevent change has more wisdom in it than some more centralised parliamentary systems; and because the very chaotic, decentralised and often irrational mess of American state and federal politics also allows for real innovation and debate in ways that simply do not occur as vibrantly elsewhere. The frustration and innovation are part of the same system. You cannot remove one without also stymieing the other.


America can drive you up the wall. To Europeans and world-weary Brits, it can sometimes seem almost barmy in its backwardness. It is a country where one state, Arkansas, has just refused to repeal a statute barring atheists from holding public office but managed in the same session to pass a law allowing guns in churches. It incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than even Russia and aborts more babies per capita than secular Europe.

Darwin remains a controversial figure, but Sarah Palin was a serious candidate to be vice-president…

On race, of course, this is especially true. No civilised country sustained slavery as recently as America or defended segregation as tenaciously as the American South until just a generation ago. In my lifetime, mixed-race couples were legally barred from marrying in many states. But equally in my lifetime, a miscegenated man who grew up in Hawaii won a majority of the votes in the old slave state of Virginia to become the first minority president of any advanced western nation.

That is the paradox of America; and after a while you find it hard to appreciate anything more coherent. What keeps America behind is also what keeps pushing it relentlessly, fitfully forward…

You live with the worst because you yearn for the best, because the worst in its turn seems somehow to evoke the best. From the civil war came Abraham Lincoln; from the Great Depression came Franklin D. Roosevelt; from segregation came Martin Luther King; and from George Bush came Barack Obama. America may indeed drive us up the wall, but it also retains a wondrous capacity to evoke the mountain top and what lies beyond.

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