To begin with, for all the evident, timeless reasons countless people from all over the world and from all walks of life have flocked to America's shores, land borders and airports: because it is indeed exceptional; a unique continent-state whose ideals, vision, dreams and power encapsulate and transcend the best of what humanity has created and aspired to. Also because, as the legend goes, you have a better shot at freedom, success and happiness than anywhere else in the world -- and if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
It would be only normal and fair to continue with the United States' follies and canards -- usually of global destructiveness (given the country's size, power, and passion) -- its shortcomings, inchoateness in many issues, and unresolved, deleterious chasms. Yet, we live in a world of relativity and last night's State of the Union speech brought hard home to me, a European expat (a rather ironical retro term for a very recently arrived immigrant from a recently bankrupt Eurozone country, Greece) that the current state of the Federal United States of America that President Obama described in his speech, the people he spoke directly to, and the guiding principles and ideals on which he based his moderate speech, were exactly what we Europeans had been priding ourselves on for decades, and aspiring to reach, through the creation of the federalized European Union.
Health care for the non-privileged? Now that this notion has become obsolete and even ridiculed and reviled in most of Europe, it is becoming the norm for America. Pensions? Now the U.S. is set on a plan to help the most vulnerable save for retirement, the EU has done away with pensions altogether -- even, as in the case of Greece, retroactively, in the case of people who have spent their entire lives saving up for these pensions. Energy independence and environmental responsibility? Now Europe's financial woes and overall curmudgeon mentality is allowing it to turn a blind eye to even the most blatant evidence of climate change, America seems to prefer conservation, solar power and freedom from uneasy dependencies on the Saudis or Russians. Social benefits for the more vulnerable -- like single mothers, or single people with no families or children? Like with gay marriage, America is the consistent pioneer in this field too. As in technology.
Some may consider 2014's State of the Union speech heavy on domestic policy but too light on foreign policy. For any European, it struck an ideal balance. The majority of Europeans today were born after the second World War, therefore were raised on an abhorrence of anything military. We considered warfare to be an abomination to possibly be endured if our country came under attack by an invading power, and after we came together in the EU, even this possibility of self-defense became an issue that would be resolved under EU-NATO auspices. Therefore President Obama's reference to ending wars, ceasing to endanger American lives, and seeking to diplomatically resolve thorny issues like the war in Syria and Iran's nuclear potential, sounded like everything the EU purported to stand for during all the past decades. That today this same EU is showing an increasingly colonial hand in various outbreaks of violence throughout Africa, is another issue -- one rarely talked about as is the resurgent spectrum of fascism and authoritarianism throughout the old continent.
And last but not least, through putting out the inchoate spark of class warfare that can so easily turn destructive to an entire nation's wellbeing, through appealing to the wealthy to help raise the minimum wage, and appealing to the very spirit of common citizenship that connects all Americans no matter where they stand, to come together and support one another with hard work and responsibility, the U.S. president spoke more evocatively and probably far more effectively than de Gaulle, Kohl, d'Estaing, Delors and any of Europe's great statesmen who envisioned the "United States of Europe" once upon a time, too long ago it now seems.
So America, whom we Europeans all collectively loved to sanctimoniously criticize, often vilify, has become what (we thought) we were. And Americans, whom we loved to make fun of as uncultured, naive and as secular as the Pope, have achieved grace and substantial eloquence, common sense and decency too, and a non-flagrant liberalism and seriousness of being. This explains why the countries of the European Union are engrossed in following President Hollande's love-affairs and in bombing one another's domestic markets as individual states while trying to save them as a collective European federal entity. While in the meantime America, government and corporate world alike, are trying to find a middle ground in the battle for privacy and freedom versus security and money-making; for free, profitable markets versus Fed funding; for safeguarding capitalism and possession while also providing for the survival of the weaker, for the ability of the middle class to live above the level of poverty, and for the opportunity of those who can to scale the class divides.
Some of this may seem wishful thinking, some of these battles may be lost or botched, but at least America is "ringing the bells that still can ring." Like Leonard Cohen sings, "Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."