Larry Auriana, himself a great investor and philanthropist and an eminence at the Columbus Day festivities for many years, makes the point that "Italians did not come to America to change it. They came to America to participate in the opportunities presented by this great country." They came for what America offered, for instance, ideas of freedom, of the rights of man, of the dignity of the individual before the state. In the heyday of Italian immigration many Italians were leaving the old world where they were often treated practically as serfs, for America, where they had rights and freedom that only a handful of Europeans even envisioned. In those days -- basically beginning late in the Eighteenth Century -- American exceptionalism was the marvel of enlightened people everywhere. America was, as Ronald W. Reagan said, "a shining city upon a hill."
The Columbus Day Parade is a happy time to be in New York City, and it is not a bad time to reflect on the exceptionalism of America. Today we have living in America ingrates that would sneer at exceptionalism. They and popinjays living elsewhere attribute to America all sorts of ills: racism, corporatism, inequality, militarism. It all gets quite esoteric. Yet it has little to do with real American life. America is still Ronald Reagan's shining city upon a hill. It can be improved. It can be made worse. It is in constant need of attention so as to be sure that it is still functioning according to the vision of our Founding Fathers. That is where the Tea Party comes in. Yet it is still the world's best hope. And on this Columbus Day, I am going down to Fifth Avenue and I shall let out a yell for an Italian guy from Genoa who got his boats from the Spanish and was idolized in Paris. Christopher Columbus seems to have anticipated the United Nations by four centuries!