Steve has served in the foreign service for over twenty years. Out of sheer luck, I approached him on the national mall. I thought our interview offered a needed perspective on how others see America, so I thought I’d share it. (Please note that the views expressed here are Steve’s as a private citizen and in no way represent the official views of the state department).
On why he’s a great citizen:
I am an exemplary citizen. I am a sworn defender of the Constitution of the United States. I’ve spent twenty years in the foreign service, and another twenty in the civil service. I have committed no crimes, I haven’t been arrested.
Why there’s a difference between being a good citizen and a good neighbor:
Political engagement and service are pretty key to citizenship. When you get to the definition of citizen, it means someone who lives in society and owes things to others. And in our society, our system of government is really important (so, therefore, engaging with it is key to citizenship). A good neighbor is someone who picks up the trash and doesn’t break the law. A good citizen is more than that; they do more than minimum, more than what is required of them.
On how foreign countries see America:
Based on my experience living abroad for decades, I think Americans really need to know that we are a shining star (for many other countries). Our democracy, despite its obvious warts, is considered the gold standard.
Countries recognize that our diversity is unmatched. In spite of our obvious challenges, it’s still looked at as a melting pot. You look at the past president. My last posting was in Africa, and they looked at the fact that our president was African-American, and they were amazed (regardless of his politics).
What makes us Americans:
There’s a strong sense of nation in America. As big, wide, diverse, and conflicted as America is, we do have a sense of oneness. We’re one team, even if we squabble and fight. We’re a big American family. Your head and your heart ascribe to the values of America: equal rights, all men and women created equal, a place for opportunity, meritocracy. All the good things we learn in schools growing up, and we, Americans, overseas try to promote.
What we can all do to be better Americans:
Help people with Hurricane Harvey. The courage and passion people are showing there is incredible. All of our attention needs to be on Harvey. Our eyes, our hearts, our hands need to be there. Open your homes, donate when you can.