What Makes Our Country Pretty Damn Great, According To 26 National Treasures

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, he did so on a message of hope and change, and a motto that said "yes we can." That message from our first Black president infused in us a promise of possibility; a promise that was fundamentally American: that together we as individuals, and also as a nation, have the power to drive our own destiny; that progress is ours for the taking, if only we do the work to achieve it.

"It is that promise that has always set this country apart," he said when he accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention, "that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams, as well."

It can feel like that promise has been lost in the current political climate, but the politicians, influencers, and activists on our radar seem only more pointed in their work toward realizing it. Republican commentator Ana Navarro points to fall leaves, peanut butter and jelly, and a peaceful succession of power every four years as reasons to love America, any time, including right now.

Trans activist and author Janet Mock loves that America offers us the right, which she calls a duty, "to show up, to link arms, and to ensure that we're fighting for the country that we love, and for the people who we love." Monica Lewinsky tells us she sees hope in the millennial generation, the future: "They're illuminating cracks and fault lines in American society that have been largely ignored for centuries."

The America of 2017 does not look like the America of the last year. But we are still here. President Trump doesn't get to define our patriotism, nor our country as something that has to be made great again. Let us not forget that many Americans are not only putting up a good fight to preserve what they value about this country, but are empowered by our constitution and by our system and laws to do so. People leaning into their hope for a better future are what always has been, and what will continue to be, this country's strongest asset.

Ahead, just a few of the people that make America great reveal how they feel about our country on its birthday. The general takeaway: Don't let the bastards grind you down.

Senator Kamala D. Harris
“I believe we are a great country. Imperfect though we may be, I believe we are a great country. Part of what makes us great are our democratic institutions that protect our fundamental ideals: freedom of religion and the rule of law, protection from discrimination based on national origin, freedom of the press, and a 200-year history as a nation built by immigrants. What makes us great are the ideals that were behind those words we spoke in 1776, that said we are all to be treated as equals. And, I believe this is a moment in time unlike any other that requires us to fight for those ideals and for the values we believe in.”
Janet Mock, Trans Activist & Author
"What makes America great? The pursuit of happiness, the sense of being able to live your greatest dreams, the nugget of: I can make myself, and be myself; the way in which the Founding Fathers of our country were able to make these documents that have been the pillars of our country.

"All of us should have the opportunity to be ourselves, to live our dreams, to have access to all of the things: home, shelter, love, family, healthcare, education, employment, to be able to take care of the people we love, to care of our families, to take care of each other. What keeps me hopeful, and what I love so much about this country, is that masses of people can gather all over the country... That keeps me hopeful, that enriches me with love for this country, despite its flaws.

"Part of our duty is to show up — to link arms, and to ensure that we're fighting for the country that we love, and for the people who we love in this space."
Senator Tim Kaine
“Americans have been reminded recently that there is no greatness without goodness. Our country is great because its people are so good. I'm reminded of this every single day by the people I meet through my work, from the parents who travel to D.C. to advocate for their kids’ health care, to the crowd that spontaneously assembled at Dulles Airport to show that a travel ban goes against our values as a nation, to the millions who marched the day after inauguration to remind the world that women’s rights are human rights. I remain an eternal optimist because of the inspiring examples of goodness that can be found in people from every city and town across the United States.”
Gabourey Sidibe, Actress & Director
"I listen to a podcast called The Read by Kid Fury and Crissle. My favorite part of the podcast is very early, in a segment on Black excellence. Usually it's focused on a child. Recently, it was a child who came up with a technology that alerts parents who have left their kids in the car that the children are in danger of heat stroke. That's my hope for this country: the young. My hope lies with those who are doing for others; those who look outward, for humanity."
Samantha Bee
"You can't boo democracy — we still need to be proud to live in an America where a Canadian is allowed on TV!”
Cecile Richards, President Of Planned Parenthood Federation Of America & Planned Parenthood Action Fund
"Despite our miserable political climate, I am inspired everywhere I go by women who are stepping up and doing more than they ever thought possible. There's Lori Hawkins, a Planned Parenthood patient I met in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Planned Parenthood detected a health issue that could have made it impossible for her to have children. She traveled to Washington to share her story with her Congressman, Speaker Paul Ryan, accompanied by her teenage daughter.

"There are the women in small-town Indiana who decided to get a few friends together to strategize after the election and wound up hosting 900 people. And there's Deja Foxx, the 17-year-old from Tucson, Arizona, who absolutely schooled her U.S. Senator for pledging to defund Planned Parenthood.

"Women aren't waiting for instructions — they're speaking out, calling Congress, and organizing in their communities. And it's not just women — it's fathers who want their daughters to have every opportunity their sons have; brothers who are proud of their fiercely independent sisters; and men from all walks of life who believe in fairness and equality. All across our country, in the face of attacks from people who want to divide us and take away our rights, we are witnessing democracy in action. And that makes me feel downright patriotic."
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
“Despite the vitriolic rhetoric and rise of hate crimes, you still see communities all across the nation responding with an equal and opposite reaction: rising up and banding together to prove that this country stands for tolerance and respect for one another. Often, we hear of Americans standing up for their fellow Americans who have been unfairly targeted or demonized because of their religion or the color of their skin. It’s through acts of kindness that I’m reminded that America is still great. I believe in the inherent goodness, strength, and resilience of the American people.”
Gayle King, Co-host of CBS This Morning & Editor-at-Large Of O, The Oprah Magazine
"What do I love most about America? It's a great question, but I was having a hard time narrowing what I love about this country down to just one answer. That changed Thursday, June 29th at around 8:36 a.m. I was co-anchoring CBS This Morning, when we ran a piece from our 'Note to Self' series. This time, the person writing a letter to his 16-year-old self was 77-year-old Congressman John Lewis.

"The civil rights legend told the boy that he once was about what he would go through on his journey to 'help redeem the soul of America.' He began with a heartbreaking story about how he and his young cousins went to a public library in 1950s Troy, Georgia, only to be told that it was for 'whites only.'

"He talked about standing up ,and sitting in, and speaking out; about choosing to be moral, knowing full well that the choice could easily cost him his life. He spoke of writing to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and receiving an invitation from Dr. King to come meet him in Montgomery. John Lewis was only 23 when he helped organize the March on Washington — the youngest man to speak at the rally that day. Two years later, he saw 'the face of death,' while leading the march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. He was beaten so badly on that bridge that he thought he was going to die. 'The boy from Troy,' as Dr. King liked to call him, has lived to be arrested 45 times for civil disobedience.

"He’s lived to witness his parents cast their first votes. He’s lived to watch the 'For Whites Only' signs come down. He’s lived to be elected to Congress. (This year marks his 30th year of service.) He’s lived to see Barack Obama elected President. And he still lives another day to fight injustice when he sees it.

"And how’s this for irony? Years later, Congressman John Lewis returned to the very same library that denied him access, but this time he returned as their guest, to read from his memoir and sign books — and he was finally given his library card! "That is why I love America: It continues to evolve. When it gets something wrong, it has the ability to change and make things right. John Lewis is living proof of that."
Senator Cory Booker
"This weekend, as we celebrate our nation’s independence and history, let’s also recognize that we’ve inherited a great legacy that we must pay forward.

"There’s no doubt that we currently find ourselves in a moral moment for our country. There are forces that seek to divide us, to tear us apart, to pit us against each other. But we’ve been here before. And we’ve survived — thrived — because we have made an unusual and extraordinary commitment to each other.

"So this Fourth of July, we must recommit ourselves to that common purpose — the important work of liberty and justice for all. The universe most certainly bends toward justice, but we must be the benders."
Monica Lewinsky, Anti-Bullying Activist & Vanity Fair Contributing Editor
"The American Dream is a call to those of all nations to come and make a better life in the U.S. That dream is not a perfect one, but the result is an incredibly diverse society. American millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history. They're illuminating cracks and fault lines in American society that have been largely ignored for centuries: complacency around women's rights, LGBTQ issues (special emphasis on increased transgender and queer representation), Black Lives Matter, refugee rights, etc. There is hope in the future."
Lauren Duca, Journalist
"Republicans often act as if they have a monopoly on flags and eagles, when the only thing they truly own is hypocritical respectability politics. Patriotism is the way you personally support your homeland. For me, it means working to make America the most free and equitable place that it can possibly be. The #MAGA mindset positions that effort as un-American, but I'm fighting like hell precisely because of how much I love this country."
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader
“Today, we’re fighting for the future of our families and the soul of our nation. But in the United States of America, the tide of history is to expand freedom and end discrimination. The Preamble to the Constitution stands the test of time as one of the most powerful and beautiful statements of a nation’s purpose ever written, laying out our pledge to seek a ‘more perfect union.’ In every generation, Americans have stepped forward to challenge injustice and move us closer to the full promise of our ideals. As we face down the challenges before us now, the vision of our Founders, the guidance of the Preamble, and our system of checks and balances will continue to advance our democracy with liberty and justice for all.”
Sarah Sophie Flicker, National Organizer & Advisor, Women's March
"When we talk about American exceptionalism, we are talking about the diversity of this country. We are talking about our brilliant non-homogeneity, we are talking about the morning ride on the subway with every kind of human represented. We are talking about the true backbone of this country, which is the beloved community: folks coming from all different countries and walks of life to make a better life.

"We've never reached that goal, and we have to wrestle that dream back from this administration and drive it forward! We are the resistance, but we are resisting this administration's rejection of the inevitable — the inevitable diversification, multi-cultural, multi- faith, multi-gender demographic which is the majority in this country! This is what I love about America and this is what I fight for!"
Tina Tchen, Former Chief Of Staff To First Lady Michelle Obama & Executive Director Of The White House Council On Women & Girls
"Only in this country could the daughter of Chinese refugees rise to serve at the highest levels of the White House. My father had two daughters, missing the son that Chinese culture demanded. But he poured all the ambition he would have given a son into my sister and me. I’ve never taken that for granted, and I’ve never taken for granted the hard-earned opportunities available for women in America.

"That’s why I’m proud to work with the United State of Women — the megaphone for the gender equality movement, convening women across issue silos to share best practices for meaningful action, and amplifying those working tirelessly to improve gender equality for all of us."
Ana Navarro, Republican Strategist & CNN Political Commentator
"Why do I love America? This could take longer than my confessions, and those are not short. I love fall leaves. I love peanut butter and jelly. I love Thanksgiving. I love the different accents — a southern drawl, Tex-Mex, New England, Midwestern, and everything in between. I love Fourth of July fireworks. I love that we honor our veterans. I love our monuments. I love our separation of powers. I love our imperfect legal system. I love our even more imperfect democracy. I love the freedom of speech and assembly. I love that every four years we have a peaceful succession of power. I love feeling that crisp, blue, U.S. passport in my hand when I go into any other country. I love taco trucks!"
Brittany Packnett, Teach For America Vice President Of National Community Alliances, & Cofounder Of Campaign Zero
"Young people in this country continue to display unbounded resilience, love, and commitment to educated citizenry. Our children love us, even when we don’t show them love. They sign up to fight for us, even when the adults in the room forget to fight for them. I will always place my hope in children. America continues to benefit from the audacity of youth and the wisdom of experience every day. In these challenging times, I place my hope in our children; they are powerful beyond measure."
Shannon Watts, Founder Of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America
"While gun violence in America has made me passionate about a single issue, as a woman, I cannot and do not lead a single-issue life. Gun violence prevention activism can be heartbreaking, but how Americans rally after every tragedy gives me hope, time and time again. Communities are coming together to demand a country that is safe for all of our families.

"Feminism today brings together so many people and policies. Ending gun violence requires talking about racism, violence against women, the LGBTQ+ community, and people from all marginalized communities. We are better when we work together — and that's the real lesson of 2017."
Eddie Huang, Chef, Author, Restaurateur, & Food Personality
America is a basketball court that anyone should be able to pull up to, call next, and play ball. People fought for this, people died for this; crimes were committed against humanity for this, and the Earth was polluted beyond belief for this. I can't say it was right, I don't think we should ever do it again, but I can stand by what's left: the world's greatest multicultural, inclusive, supposedly equitable, basketball court founded on competition that everyone paid an astronomical price for.

"America only survives if we let the rest of the world play on it. The problem is that the people who've won on this court believe it belongs to them. They've rigged the game, they've moved the lines, and they're not letting anyone else play. We can't let these people take the court because America doesn't belong to any specific group or individual, it is a court that belongs to the world. We can never forget that and we can never be too disconnected. America doesn't stop at the water's edge."
Deb Eschmeyer, Vice President, Communications & Community Affairs, DanoneWave; Former Executive Director, Let's Move!
"It was an absolute privilege and honor to serve our country fighting for a stronger, healthier America as Former First Lady Michelle Obama's executive director of Let's Move! and the White House senior policy advisor for nutrition. Walking to my office every day in 'The People's House' was an awe-inspiring experience as I witnessed families visiting the White House for the first time, absorbing the immensity of its depth of history and significance in the world.

"It was a blessing to spend my days (and nights) doing everything we could to improve the health of kids and families, working side by side with some of the most dedicated, caring, and wicked-smart change agents all striving for a better tomorrow for the United States of America. And now, the work continues, just in a different space, as I strive to bring health through food to as many people as possible with my more than 6,000 colleagues in the largest public benefit corporation in the U.S., DanoneWave."
Stephanie Ruhle, MSNBC Anchor
“The greatest thing about our country right now is that it's OURS...all of ours. We have the power: to build it, change it, tear it down, or even ignore it. This is not a drill. Don't think voting counts? Here's the president who could never be president. Don't think there's room for new ideas? A whole transportation system is now accessible from a computer in your pocket. And with all of us working on it, I like our chances of making it a better country.”
Norah O'Donnell, Journalist & Cohost, CBS This Morning
“I was reminded why this country is so great on my recent trip to South Korea to interview President Moon Jae-in. We visited the United States' forces at Yongsan Garrison (where I spent two years of my childhood) and Osan Air Base. Talking to the servicemen and women there, you are reminded of the strength and endurance of our country’s values. These men, women, and their families are courageous, bold, and completely selfless. They are the frontline when it comes to North Korean relations, yet they are fearless. This hits close to home, as my father served for 30 years, and my sister is a surgeon in the Army. I am forever grateful for their service!”
Photographed by Jason Clampet.
Veronica Chambers, Editor, The Meaning Of Michelle
"I was born in the 1970s — at a time when the victories, promise, and hope of so many movements still felt fresh and new: the Civil Rights movement, the modern women's movement, and the LGBT movement, too.

"Those activists built a bridge that pointed to a better America — a journey that we are still very much on. These are hard times and trying times and, sometimes, frightening times. But the power of the people and the hope of who we might become as a country is still strong. To quote the great disco anthem: 'Ain't no stopping us now.'"
Lucy McBath, Faith & Outreach Leader, Moms Demand Action
"As the daughter of a Civil Rights leader and a survivor of gun violence, I believe in the power of people to stand up for freedom, for justice, for peace and opportunity. I know together we can inspire more people to take an active role in creating positive change for a safer, a better America.

"And who better than women to spark momentum in what has become the new civil rights movement of our day? Women have always been on the front lines of activism and cultural change for social justice issues, and we always will be — because our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, depend on it."
Joanna Rosholm, Former Press Secretary To First Lady Michelle Obama
"I’m the daughter of a single father who is a lifelong card-carrying member of the NRA. He’s still confused why I ever decided to go work for the Obamas seven years ago. And while our dinner table conversations are more lively than ever these past few months, it reminds me of what makes America great: our differences. We are free to be whomever we want to be, and to express ourselves accordingly. There are so many places in the world where that is not true. So this July 4th, I’m going to count those blessings. And then go back to calling my members of Congress."
Gretchen Carlson, TV Journalist; Author, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment And Take Your Power Back
"When I think of the Fourth of July, I think of the American Dream. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, where my parents told me daily I could be anything I wanted to be with hard work and perseverance. Sadly today, studies show only 60% of Americans still believe in that dream. I say we still need to fight for it!

"When I put my kids to bed at night, I don't tell them they might get lucky. I tell them the dream can be theirs with the same hard work ethic I learned long ago. That never give up attitude is essential no matter what we are trying to achieve; in my life, being a concert violinist, Miss America, or taking on the fight of my life against sexual harassment. Together we can stand up and speak up to be the best we can be — always striving to 'be fierce' as we honor the birthday of our nation."
Lauren Vrazilek, Director Of Publicity At Universal; Former Deputy Press Secretary To First Lady Michelle Obama
"When I graduated college, I filled out an online application for the White House Internship Program. In the six-and-a-half years that followed, I worked my way up from mailroom intern to deputy press secretary for First Lady Michelle Obama.

"I am the daughter of immigrants and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. I know that my mother, a nurse, and father, the owner of a small plumbing company, never imagined that their tireless work ethic and optimistic spirit would bring them to the White House to meet the President and First Lady of the United States. When the President and First Lady expressed their gratitude for my work, I saw the American dream fulfilled in my parents' eyes. I believe that our country still has the potential for this kind of greatness."
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