The American character at work in post-Katrina New Orleans

It has been five years since the disastrous Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico and the bordering states. Many reports this week are showing the incomplete but nonetheless significant resurgence of New Orleans. The citizens of the Gulf states, most recently affected by the BP oil spill, have endured much in the last few years. But they are examples of the American character in action—resilience and the ability to rebound have once again won the day.

What is it in the American character that promotes this capacity to recover, to reverse course when necessary and act in a way that brings progress? Some will argue that American history is full of examples where values and principles gave way to expediency. When slavery was abolished, segregation soon took its place. Yet today, America is governed by an African-American. It may take time, but it seems this most influential of all nations eventually gets it right.

The ongoing resurgence of New Orleans, the resistance to despondency by New Yorkers after the terrible events of 9/11, and the ability to revisit decisions like the one to go to war in Iraq speak to the nature of the American character. The mood in America has been decried of late as angry, with the rise of the Tea Party and the bitter debate over the Ground Zero mosque cited as evidence. This weekend Glenn Beck will deliver an angry address at the Lincoln Memorial, an attempt to simulate the Second Coming or his version of Martin Luther King’s  “I Have a Dream” speech. Meanwhile, the upcoming election cycle has already been interpreted as a rejection of America’s current course of action. But somehow Americans will make it through this period of fierce polarization. The one consistent trait of this country is its character. Five years after Katrina, that much should be clear.

[John Parisella is currently serving as Quebec’s Delegate General in New York City]

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