Is it OK to criticize the United States?

U.S. politics is especially stupid these days. I have been following politics since the 1970s, and this period appears to be the most inane ever. And if you believe that only one “side” is stupid, then you are part of the problem.

We have one “side” that spends most of its time claiming the United States is a hateful, racist country. And then we have another “side” saying that if you launch such criticisms you should be sent back to the country you came from. I mean really, can you get any more sophomoric?

There used to be an understanding that the United States indeed had many flaws but that we were working to fix those flaws and we had done a pretty admirable job of it. Of course slavery was horrific, but slavery had existed for thousands of years, and it was a new thing to abolish it. Once the idea of ending slavery became popular, it took the United States a few decades to end institutionalized slavery. Brazil ended slavery in 1888 — the United States did it in 1865. England ended slavery in 1833. I suppose it is not politically correct to point out that, worldwide, slavery was NOT about race — it was about power. Historically, people of all races have been forced into slavery. (It’s almost like people have never seen the movie “Gladiator.”)

Segregation and Jim Crow laws were another horrific period of U.S. history, and this involved true racism, not the overwrought charges of racism we see launched every five second today. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is a heroic period where Americans of all races came together to end this racism. And those of us who believe that God has equal love for all people, the movement to end this racism is wonderful thing and something we as Americans should be proud of.

President Nelson spoke at the NAACP on Sunday August 21, and he said the following:

We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us. We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other. If we have any hope of reclaiming the goodwill and sense of humanity for which we yearn, it must begin with each of us, one person at a time….

Simply stated, we strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation.

Quoting from 2 Nephi 26:33, President Nelson said the Savior invites “’all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he (denies) none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.’

“May I repeat that last phrase: ‘All are alike unto God.’”

May I suggest that, as usual, President Nelson strikes exactly the right tone? He is right in line with President Hinckley, who declared in 2006: “I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.”

Latter-day Saints should not join either “side” on this issue. We should recognize that the history of the United States is filled with mistakes, but we should be optimistic and proud that this country has taken massive steps to correct those mistakes. We should look at history in context and not expect people from the past to have acted as we act today.

But on the other hand, we should never join the people chanting “send her back” when another person criticizes the United States and makes other statements with which we might disagree. Of course it is OK to criticize the United States. There is much to criticize, including, by the way, the treatment of latter-day Saints in the 19th century.

The Church of Jesus Christ’s position is exactly right: All are alike unto God. People who disparage another race are not following the teachings of Christ. It is also worth adding that those who spend their time focusing on past tragedies are very often creating negativity rather than positive feelings. And those who drum up hatred and xenophobia for political reasons are also on the wrong path. Follow the prophets. They know the way.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

16 thoughts on “Is it OK to criticize the United States?

  1. In 2012, I was very disillusioned after the presidential race. I began to withdraw from political activity and involvement then. Then 2016 happened, and again I just had to decide not to be involved and not care about the constant, “he said/she said/they said” cycle that happens every few hours on social media and the news. I am so glad I made that decision every day lately. I’m still frustrated, no doubt, but I’m also not suffering under the weight of things I can’t control.

  2. I agree that we all should be more charitable. And I much appreciate that we need to look at history and ourselves in proper context.

    But I wonder about “Of course it is OK to criticize the United States. There is much to criticize…”

    Let me make a small change: Of course it is OK to criticize [my father]. There is much to criticize… Well, really, I’d prefer that you not criticize my father. He was a good man. I would prefer to remember the overwhelming good. Or, Of course it is OK to criticize [my ward]. There is much to criticize…. Well, really, I’d rather not criticize my ward. Certainly, there are some decisions made that I might have made differently, and there are a few ward members that are more strident on some matters than I am and more passive on some matters than I am.

    I prefer to build up, rather than tear down. When someone tears down, or criticizes, or attacks, or points the finger, or wags the head, or mocks, I tend to disagree with them regardless of which side they are on. Somehow, I think we can push for needed or desired change in our society without criticism of the United States.

  3. The United States does have some significant problems at the moment, and has had some very significant ones in the past. However, it has also been a meaningful force for good over the course of its existence. On balance I would certainly rate it a net positive (but the negative side of that ledger is real, large, and momentous). None of that (the net positive aspect) excuses anything nor suggests we should not stop trying to improve the state of the Union. Finding and understanding the problems which face us has to occur before those problems can be addressed in any meaningful manner.

  4. Awesome, Geoff. We fight against bad ideas, not throw out ad hominem attacks.

    I’m glad I left the major parties about 3 years ago, when they both offered terrible ideas and did endless personal attacks. I’ve had a few question my temple worthiness because I didn’t vote for their candidate!

    The Constitution is a flawed document, designed to reflect the best in the Declaration of Independence and us, while allowing us to improve on it by expanding God given inalienable rights. And so amendments give freedom and rights to blacks, women, etc.

    America is not a place, but an ideal we should strive for, attacking bad ideas, while embracing the good.

  5. Nice try at being “balanced.” I am a liberal democrat and NO, I do not think the US is hateful and racist. I think the PRESIDENT is hateful and racist and not representative of what this country stands for or what most Americans are like.

  6. There is criticism and then there is criticism.

    My husband likes to wake to NPR and there are TV screens at work. So I am not completely ignorant of current events. But I refuse to go out of my way to watch news or listen to news radio. Much of it appears to be corrosive and hyperbolic.

  7. “Corrosive and Hyperbolic” might be the current motto of CNN, come to think of it.

  8. Worth noting that in the 2016 election the person criticizing the US the most was none other than Donald Trump

  9. I suppose it is worth pointing out there is a difference between “criticizing the actions of past American presidents and other politicians” and “criticizing the United States.” To be clear, Trump did both of these things during the campaign, but he mostly criticized the actions of past presidents and politicians.

    In any case, I would prefer this post to be more about President Nelson and less about Trump.

  10. I think we should criticize the United States when we see issues arise.

    I always look for this one comment around the 4th in church. “This is the greatest country in the world,” or “God said this was the best country, a promised land above all others.”

    I one time asked a speaker, “what other countries have you lived in?” “Do you know it is the best country?”

    I can think of a dozen countries that seem mighty nice from time to time. I would be less likely to be shot, go to war, go hungry, go without medical care, or be pestered about my ethnicity in many of these “lesser” countries.

  11. I think we should charitably work to make things better when we see issues arise.

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