Op-Ed: On July Fourth weekend these truths still ring true about America and we must fight for them
July 05, 2021
When I coached football, I’d tell my players that “life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it.” It was a way to get them to focus on themselves and on the things they could control – and to get them to understand that they were ultimately the authors of their own destinies.
It didn’t mean they weren’t on a team: football isn’t a game for committed individualists. It did mean, though, that when events unfolded – when they found themselves far downfield and wide open, or when they found themselves knocked flat by linemen twice their size – the measure of themselves was revealed in the very next moment.
You don’t know a player by what’s done to him. You know him by what he does.
It’s a lesson America could use now. My teams looked a lot like America – and they worked a lot like how America is supposed to work.
Every race, every ethnicity, and every point of origin was represented among our players across my career. They all had two things in common. The first was that they were passionately committed to making Notre Dame Football the country’s best – and a few times, they succeeded. The second was that each of them earned their spot. Yes, they were diverse, but the diversity wasn’t the reason for their presence. Every single player who wore the Notre Dame uniform deserved to do it.
That’s meritocracy. But why use the five-dollar word? I was born in West Virginia and raised in Ohio: out there, we just call it the American way.
There are a lot of enemies of the American way these days – right here in America. They’re men and women, mostly elites from academia and media, who would, if they could, walk into a football locker room and tell the players the exact opposite of my counsel: “life is 90% what happens to you, and 10% how you respond to it.” Then, having said that, they would probably demand to know why the team was gender imbalanced. Then, having said that, the team – now dispirited and infused with a victim mentality – would head out to the field to lose.
What’s true of a football team is true of a country. America’s promise has always been the opportunity for self-definition, self-advancement, self-creation. Where we’ve fallen short of that ideal – and we have – we’ve labored to correct ourselves. On the whole, we’ve done a pretty good job.
It’s fashionable now to lament failures in our history, but that myopic focus ignores the triumph of the present. In my lifetime alone, this country has defeated three malevolent empires, ended de jureracial segregation, and crafted a society so rich in opportunity that people from all over the world risk everything to get in.
Set against that record, unmatched anywhere, anytime, by anyone, we have the proponents of national decline and national lamentation – whether going by the name of critical-race theorists or the 1619 Project – arguing that America was flawed from the start and requires a wholesale purge of its own society before it is worth saving, or admiration.
We should be charitable to this crowd. Some of them genuinely believe the country requires a reckoning. Some of them are simply hucksters, selling books and clawing forth column inches in the timeless American tradition of media by any means. All of them, though, see themselves as on top and enriched when the reckoning comes. These aren’t radicals sacrificing for a better world: they’re power-seekers making their bid to rule with the acquiescence of a compliant elite.
That’s why we have to fight them. That’s why we have to win. When a football team believes that “life is 90% what happens to you, and 10% how you respond to it,” it loses. When a nation believes it, it ends. The stakes are that existential.
The creed set forth by the other side transforms our national life from a glorious constellation of mutual cooperation and community flourishing into a grim and zero-sum exercise of group versus group, with no winner – and many losers.
Football, I used to tell my players, is a rehearsal for life. That’s true for nearly any endeavor in which we strive and contend for the betterment of ourselves, our families and our communities. Our duty is to see that it’s a rehearsal for a triumph – not a decline. To make it happen, we must be willing to tell simple truths: among them, that no impersonal “structure” is the author of our fate, that each of us possesses the dignity and opportunity to make our own best lives, and that America is the greatest republic in the history of man.
Those used to be truisms. Today they’re radical dissents. But then, America was born in radical dissent. I couldn’t be happier to stand in that tradition.
Lou Holtz serves as Chairman for the Center for 1776 for the America First Policy Institute (AFPI).
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