Since none of us are perfect people, living in a perfect world, defining what makes someone a “good person” can be surprisingly difficult. Even Mother Teresa, who spent decades helping the poor in India, was canonized by the church and given a Nobel Peace Prize, has been bitterly criticized as a bad person by some people who didn’t like her stance on abortion or who felt like she shouldn’t have so strongly prioritized stretching limited resources as far as possible instead of spending whatever it took to help each person. Granted, none of these people did 1/1000th as much for the poor as Mother Teresa and most people roll their eyes at their criticism of her, but it’s still worth noting that if a woman whose name is synonymous with being a good person isn’t universally accepted as being one, it may be really tough to come up with a definition everyone will agree with.
It's a bit easier to define something like what makes a person a “good consumer” of a product in a corporation’s eyes. For example, if Lay’s Potato Chips was asked to define it, it might be something like, “A good consumer is a person who eats 6 pounds of Lays Potato Chips per year and prefers our chips over any other brands.” A “great consumer” might be “Someone who eats 12 pounds of Lay’s Potato Chips in a year, prefers Lay’s chips over other brands, wears clothing with the Lay’s logo on it and tells his friends how much he loves Lay’s products.” It’s much easier to define what makes a good consumer for a corporation than it is to define what makes a good person because there are fewer parameters, fewer grey areas, and more basic data to work with. In other words, it’s hard to define whether giving 10% of your income to charity or volunteering every weekend at a soup kitchen is more important if you’re trying to determine whether someone is a good person. But with all the data that’s out there, it’s easy to define whether you eat an above-average amount of Lay’s Potato Chips.
Defining whether someone is a good American ranks somewhere between these two factors in difficulty. Some of it is just basic math.
For example, if you don’t pay more in taxes than the government spends on you over the course of your lifetime, you’re not a good American. It has to be that way because a country can’t survive long term unless its citizens can produce more than they consume. Besides, whether you are talking about a tribe, a team, a nation, or even a group project, no one appreciates having a member that doesn’t pull their own weight.
Also, this will come as a shock to some people, but you have to love your country to be a good American. Do you hate the flag? Turn your back during the National Anthem? Think the 4th of July is a terrible holiday? Talk about what a lousy nation this is to impress your friends? Then, you’re not a good American. In our corporate example, imagine trying to claim that you’re a “good consumer of Lay’s chips” when you tell people all day that Lay’s chips make you vomit because you hate the taste. Just to give you an idea of how out of kilter we are on this issue now, we had athletes in the just-completed Olympics that came across as so unpatriotic that many Americans were rooting for them to lose. Nothing is more natural than for someone that lives in a nation to love that country and want it to succeed. To see so many people in the most successful nation on earth spewing hatred is bizarre and a sign that something is deeply off in our culture.
Similarly, you can’t detest the Founding Fathers and think the Constitution is a living document that politicians can change any way they see fit and be a good American. Men like Washington, Jefferson, and Adams along with concepts like freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, cut all the way down to the core of the American ideal. You can’t love America and advocate trashing the roots of our country so you can create a beautiful new socialist utopia. Don’t tell us you love America when you want to fundamentally change what the whole country is about.
Realistically, you also need to have been a law-abiding citizen to be on this list. You can’t say you’re a good American if you’re rioting, looting, raping, robbing, and murdering your fellow citizens. For a nation like ours to function, to thrive, people need to respect the law. That includes politicians. That includes people involved in political protests. That’s one of the big reasons so many people are adamantly opposed to illegal aliens being given citizenship in the United States. No one whose first act on American soil is breaking the law deserves to be rewarded with citizenship. That being said, no one is slapping down the “you’re a bad American” card over someone jaywalking and if a law is unjust, you could make an argument in favor of breaking it. Still, you can’t be Bonnie and Clyde or Bernie Madoff and say you’re a good American.
Once you get beyond these basics, things start to get a little iffier, almost by necessity. For example, you’d think people that served their nation and their fellow citizens, would almost by definition be good Americans and most of our countrymen would accept that when it comes to the military. However, what about politicians and bureaucrats? Police officers and firemen? Certainly, some people in all of those groups do what they do because they want to serve their fellow Americans. To others, it’s just a job.
Then there’s voting. Some people would say that’s a necessity, but after you run across enough people who voted despite not knowing who the Vice-President is because they want the government to give them money, it becomes obvious that a lot of people would better serve their nation by not voting. Of course, there are other ways to participate in our civic process. Jury duty. Showing up to school board meetings. Even volunteering for local events and community groups.
There are at least two other areas that many people don’t think about that have to be considered in deciding whether someone is a good American or not and yes, we may have some disagreement about the specifics.
The first relates to divisiveness. There have always been difficult and divisive people in the world. However, we have now gotten to the point where there are people spending all day on social media, in some cases, even making a living encouraging black Americans to hate white Americans, gay Americans to hate straight Americans, women to hate men, Democrats to hate Republicans, city dwellers to hate rural Americans, northerners to hate southerners – it just goes on and on. If you can come up with a way to divide ourselves, there are people encouraging us to do just that. We’re not talking about advocating for positions here either. This isn’t about a conservative who’s against gay marriage or a liberal who’s an advocate of abortion, it’s about telling people that whole sections of our population are evil, sub-human, or monstrous because they don’t agree with your position. It’s about saying that there’s no need to support a position or make a case because only bad people could be against it. You cannot encourage people to hate and despise millions of your fellow Americans and call yourself a good American.
Along similar lines, to be a good American, you have to think about preserving America for future generations. There are a lot of people out there that would tell you to get as much as you can for yourself and screw everybody else. Except, a generation that eats the seed corn and leaves nothing for the next generation to plant when summer comes along, is a rotten generation. You don’t care about your country if you’re not thinking about what kind of country we’re leaving to our kids. Are we leaving our kids a surplus or a deficit? Are we preparing them to succeed in the real world or focusing on drilling propaganda into their heads? Are we teaching them right from wrong? Setting a good example? Are we creating a world with better or worse values than the one we grew up in? As a culture, we are unquestionably failing the next generation in this area, so the question then becomes, “Am I doing the best I can to make a difference?” That’s one people should think about. It’s okay to put you and your family first, but you need to have a modicum of respect for the rest of the country and even for the people that will be here long after you’re gone.
We need more good Americans to save this country and whether you have been one or not up until this point, it’s time to do the right thing from here on out and hope it’s not too late for our nation.