ColumnistsMy Turn

My Country: Where Are We Heading?

By Bruce Frassinelli

On Independence Day weekend, I wanted to take stock of my relationship with the United States, the country into which I was born, raised and love dearly. I have been an eyewitness to history with the many changes — good and bad — that I have seen during my 83 years on this Earth.

As a son of Italian immigrant parents, I have never taken my citizenship for granted. My mother, who was a citizen by the time I was born in 1939, explained to me time and time again what being an American had meant to her and how I have to do my part to become a productive and useful citizen.

For my father and her to have been able to successfully operate a corner grocery store at the same location in a small coal-mining community in Northeastern Pennsylvania for nearly 35 years, including through the Great Depression, would have been unthinkable in their native Italy. Both of their parents came to “America” to find better opportunities for themselves but, especially for their children.

The road to success, however, was filled with potholes and obstacles. Italian immigrants like my parents were confronted with unspeakable stereotypes and harsh treatment.

Many native-born Americans shunned them, associated them with the Mafia or tried to make them out to be dim-witted jesters. The irony has not been lost on me that there are some immigrants today who face the same discrimination and who must undergo the same challenges my parents did more than a century ago.

When I sum up my parents’ incredible success in the face of these significant obstacles, I am left in awe, but they are just two of many others who persevered, flourished and attained their goal of giving their children a crack at a better life. It wasn’t just Italian immigrants either. There were thousands of others from Central and Eastern European countries and elsewhere in the world who settled throughout the United States and who had to fight for the grudging respect of the residents already living in their communities.

When looking at the contributions of a people, those with claims to infamy and fame constitute but a tiny fraction of the whole. The unsung, low-visible, non-newsmaking men and women are the real heroes of the immigrant experience. It is they, who in quiet, low-key, yet effective ways, set the examples and taught their children to become productive citizens.

It was into this optimistic mindset that I was born, the idea that we live in the greatest country in the world and that any problems which emerge can be fixed by the resourcefulness, determination, unity and goodwill of the American people.

Today, however, there is an ill wind blowing in our country. Some of the characteristics that have been keystones of the American fabric are under assault, and many are pessimistic that this negativity won’t be reversed.

Polls of our people are showing a distrust about our ability to overcome our issues with each other. A substantial majority of Americans believe we are headed in the wrong direction.

When countries begin to fail, according to Michael J. Mazarr, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp., it’s a “negative-feedback loop, a poisonous synergy.” The energy that could reverse this decline becomes sapped by misinformation and distrust. Some get so angry, they conspire to burn down the house in a desire to exact revenge and start over. We saw that on Jan. 6, 2021, and we are learning about how close we came to full-scale insurrection.

The disclosures by the Jan. 6 committee hearings are having slow but growing Republican willingness to challenge former President Donald Trump, which is a promising sign. Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on abortion, gun laws and the environment are dividing our country even further. While most of the protests, on both sides, have been largely peaceful, some have not been, and this concerns me.

The United States into which I was born was wary of foreign entanglements as World War II loomed. With the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese forced our hand, and we became part of a global conflict. Regardless of where Americans had come from, they embraced the concept that this is our country now, and we must come together to defend it to ensure that this noble republic would not fail. All of us are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the famous words incorporated into the Declaration of Independence.

That’s the thing: When families or communities are affected by adversity, we Americans rush to their aid and comfort. We saw it most recently after the shooting tragedies in Highland Park, Illinois; Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. Why can’t we exhibit this spirit of togetherness in other facets of our lives?

The civility of political discourse, once a hallmark of the American experience, has eroded significantly. We need to get back to the days when we can discuss differing political views in an atmosphere of mutual respect and a willingness to open our minds to varying points of view to make
us better and more enlightened citizens.