What to Do About Columbus Day | Opinion

America is a divided country. Some believe in its exceptionalism and that it has been and remains a force for global good. Others think a political and cultural overhaul that rejects our founding principles is long overdue. The rest of us are, it seems, caught in the middle.

Most Americans would willingly acknowledge our faults after they are pointed out. No one of any matter is, for example, still defending slavery. A sensible position, it would seem, since the issue was settled by war and constitutional amendment more than 150 years ago. Yet some want to reopen that wound and talk of securing reparations for the descendants of those once held in bondage—an idea most people seem to reject no matter what they might tell the pollsters.

Another place where American values are in tension with contemporary thinking is the annual observance of Columbus Day. It used to be that this holiday marked the "discovery" of America. In my youth, kids would debate with all the intensity they could muster whether it was Columbus or the Vikings who were the first Europeans to reach North America. That there were already people here was of little import, lost in a bevy of ethnic pride.

In 2020 Columbus Day is a trigger for social justice warriors who see it as a celebration of the massacre of indigenous people by white, empire-building Europeans. That kind of grievance-based analysis, which fuels the rage in inner-city Portland and Seattle, ignores completely the benefits to humankind that came about as a result of Columbus' discovery.

Columbus' accomplishments are worthy of celebration because they culminated in the founding of the United States. The explorer was, in a way, the first to emigrate to what became America even if he did not settle here permanently.

Many who followed Columbus were following commercial interests. Others came seeking the freedom to worship the Creator as they saw fit and not as a monarch dictated. Others wanted a chance to start anew, perhaps with a new name and identity. More than a few were brought here without their consent as commercial property rather than people, something we must never forget. Yet, when taken together, all of them contributed to making the United States the greatest, freest, most prosperous country mankind has ever known.

Columbus statue
A statue of the famed explorer Christopher Columbus stands in Columbus Circle June 25, 2020 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty

Rather than abolish Columbus Day, let us add to its meaning. Let's make it the holiday that celebrates the accomplishments immigrants have made and continue to make for America and the world.

Think of the honorable men and men and women who have added to this nation's economic, cultural, scientific, political, diplomatic, artistic and commercial achievements. What would America be if it had not offered a new start to the likes of Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Andrew Grove, Vinod Khosla, Elon Musk and Mother Cabrini—just to name a few.

What was true in 1720, 1820, and 1920 remains true today. The people immigrating to the United States come because the ability to increase their living standards in their home country is blocked by religious, economic, geographic, political, linguistic, ethnic or other artificial barriers they cannot overcome. The only way for them to escape the cultural and economic poverty in which they live is to escape to America.

Immigrants contribute mightily to the greatness that is America. Before Trump's election, almost 350 out of every 100,000 immigrants created a new business every month, according to the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship and education research group.

Let's welcome those who follow the rules with open arms, and applaud their courage. Who among us would leave behind everything we had known for a new life in another nation? Only the bravest. Yet, to a cabal of idiots out to prove a point, America is just a flawed concept that cannot be redeemed, and the country we have today was stolen from the people already here, starting when Columbus stepped off the Santa Maria. It is a severely distorted, one-sided view of history peddled by those who call Monday "Indigenous Peoples' Day."

Immigrants have made the United States a stronger, richer, healthier and better place. To honor them on Columbus Day is to keep alive the idea of America as a "shining city on a hill" beckoning to all who seek a better life. Use the holiday to honor them and their courage in seeking a better life, if not for themselves, then for their children and grandchildren.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics, culture, and the media for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and various other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

What to Do About Columbus Day | Opinion | Opinion