It is the idea of dynamism and change that is hard to understand. America is dynamic. We can become “more perfect” but nothing on earth is perfect. American genius was that our founders recognized that perfection was a process and not a destination.

My job for more than thirty years was to explain the United States to people around the world. Try to explain. That was also a process not a destination. I progressed from knowing not much to knowing not enough, but I couldn’t stop looking. It is a big country and one in perpetual state of becoming something new. That is how I started all my talks with foreign audiences, some variation of that. I must have given the talk hundreds of times and it was never the same twice, like the USA.

I wanted to be able to add personal color, so I made an effort to get out “into America”. We drove across the USA at least six times, depending exactly on how you count. We took the train once from California to Chicago. That was good. And I tried to talk to people along the way.

The more you talk to ordinary people, the more you come to respect ordinary people and understand that nobody is ordinary.

State Department (and USIA) had programs where diplomats could volunteer to talk around the country. I did that and arranged some of my own. Sometimes State Department gave talking points. I tended not to use them. They were too simple. One time I gave a talk about economics and trade to an audience in Amarillo, Texas using my fancy pants talking points. The audience knew a lot more than I did. I talked about international trade; they did it. I learned two things at that encounter: I learned about trade in agricultural products and I learned not to underestimate guys with cowboy hats and faded blue jeans. I got this sort of lesson over-and-over. I knew lots of general things; they knew lots of useful ones.
I know my country is not perfect and never will be. But I know it will always be getting better. We can see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants. It is easy to disparage them, for their lack of vision, but maybe we should just be grateful for the boost they gave us.