Our nation’s psyche is shaped by two defining archetypes: the cowboy and the preacher; the macho hero and the principled idealist; the adventurer and the reformer; the Louisiana Purchase and the Bill of Rights; Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson; John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart; Douglas MacArthur and Martin Luther King.
The face we present to the rest of the world is spawned of the delicate balance between these two personae, these two values. We swagger … and we stand on principle. We fight for freedom … and we defend human rights. We are the biggest … and we are the best. We overcome all enemies … and we uphold the rule of law.
Much of our internal political debate can be framed in terms of these two defining ideas. When kept in balance, we manage to win with dignity, to earn respect even as we impose our will, to forge new friendships instead of creating new enemies.
But when the one American vision is divorced from the other, when the rule of law is set aside “out of necessity” in order to “win,” then we are seen as bullies. And that is indeed what we are … just bullies.