Who Cares About the “City on the Hill” anyways?

There are, according to Google, 206 nationalities, 196 countries, 4 major race groups with 30 subgroups, and 7 billion people in a vast, endless universe of countless planets where there must definitely be more planets, entire systems, hosting life just as and if not, more complex creatures than the human being. And yet, we tend to focus on our tiny little planet, even more so in our own tiny worlds. We are the “City on the Hill”, that nation that must somehow be held on a pedestal, ready to be judged by the rest of the world. Indeed, there are nations and peoples concerned with American values outside the nation, but more likely than not, foreigners look at the news, Trump in bold text in the headline, and laugh or cringe for a mere moment, before flipping the page to more relevant news. In fact, it is more accurate to say the POTUS would be buried somewhere next to the weather, to spark some minor reaction.

“Oh, I must bring an umbrella, it will rain soon.”

“Oh, America has voted Trump for president, haha.”

The page is flipped to something more important then.

Nationalism is an odd thing, threatening to overinflate American egos to believe we are always on some major podium, ready to prove ourselves to the world as if it were the first day of class for a middle school student. In reality, it is more than likely that the so-called position as a “world leader” we Americans may assume our country to be is more of “one amongst many, many others”. One is not to misunderstand this either, for nationalism bonds us and for the most part has made America beautiful in the sense than race, religion and gender should be irrelevant under the united title of the “American”. In that sense, nationalism is a treasure, but I speculate an issue with the phrase “City on the Hill”. I believe there should be some clarification of the phrase, from what Winthrop referenced early colonies and what it may be used for to describe that matured nation now.

John Winthrop the Puritan and his fellow colonists were headed to a new continent on promising land, in escape of religious turmoil. Though it is important to realize that they carved a path for later more shameful events in American history, it is likewise notable that indeed America was in high regards, not because the colonists were particularly powerful. The case ultimately came to the Americas being one of the most prosperous continents, so the colonists were definitely making a “City on a Hill”, or rather, a city on a gold mine. Beyond America’s surface value, England would later certainly not let just any colony break free, just as well as any other major country of the time wouldn’t. John Winthrop and his peers were in constant pressure to stand independent in proof of worthiness, or some other country would certainly swoop down and attempt to claim it from them. It wasn’t just the land at stake: it was their freedoms, their religion, even their lives. In short summary, the early stakes for America were much higher, and other nations were definitely interested in the unique little country founded off of freedom and independence.

Now, America is a major power of course, but so are so many countries around the world. Indeed, as a nation the United State has definitely matured from its colonial roots, but so have so many other countries. If we wish to illustrate modern-day America as a “City on a Hill”, we are more than welcome to. Just note that, this hill is surrounded by other hills, some of which are definitely comparable to mountains, in comparison to the United States. This is not to say we aren’t important or capable of changing the world – it’s simply a matter of sharing that role with many others now. There was a time when America was under pressure to be independent and strong, then it indeed took the role as one of the strongest world powers. The main point of this analysis is to note that America has certainly retired from those years of sheer power and growth, and is instead currently sitting in a soft chair by a fireplace, staring at dozens of “1st place” trophies as those days have come and gone. It is time to put the phrase “City on a Hill” to rest if it is to be slapped onto the Americans, and reflect upon the past. We really, really aren’t that important in such a massive world, and neither are we glorious or special enough to be there anyways.

One must not misinterpret my analysis here of my country. America is beautiful, one of the few places where so many different people can look at one another and call each other brother and sister, where a mixture of cultures in itself has its own taste. You can hold your traditions from your ancestry and still be American, and you can abandon them to adopt a new identity and still be American. However, the issue with a “City on a Hill” as a phrase that alludes to American past…it is the past. We need to stop worrying what the world thinks of us, mostly because they don’t really care all that much. The United States isn’t the massive democratic goliath anymore, and while we may be feared or respected on other nations, there is just as much of a threat in the modern day from any other well-grown country. In fact, more often than not, America has become a joke. The punchline: the POTUS. How can we expect to be just as impressive when we allow things such as this to happen? Why should we keep national exceptionalism nowadays, at least as much as Winthrop? It has little basis considering how many acts of injustice still happen today, despite years, decades of progress.

Now is the time to instead, reflect on the American past. Now is the time, to fix issues that still spark flames today. There is a lot of criticism about America, especially since the events of the last election threaten to tear apart the progress we have so carefully built upon, but I strongly believe that it is time to ignore the trash talk, to proudly hold up the American flag and claim our identity as Americans, and actually start getting things done rather than speaking with empty promises. There is a lot of issues in the U.S., especially now with the new series of events that will surely follow the election, but instead we must not waste any energy in proving ourselves as that “City on the Hill”. Perhaps one day, the United States will once more be that proud world power that truly could produce real international change. For now, we must accept that we have and continue to make mistakes, we must humbling ourselves and focusing on actual growth, rather than image and being something we’re not even close to being for the moment. We can and must still progress and grow, mature, and only then can we say that yes, we actually do promote the full mixture of cultures, yes, we actually do provide equality, yes, we are a nation that stands united. Until we address these issues, it is more fit that the United States be called “Just Another City on the Hill”. I think with John Winthrop’s quote, citizens of the U.S. can take a stand to prevent us from going backwards, to keep and heighten what made us special in the first place. Let’s keep our promises.


-William Fernandez


One thought on “Who Cares About the “City on the Hill” anyways?

  1. I think the most original part of this post was its focus on the US at the current time, which did not exist at the time the poem was written. I think as an improvement I would like to see more about how the US is no longer a democratic goliath – and how it was before?


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