A really good listen can be had of the In Our Time radio episode on The American Ideal, with Susan Sontag, the late Christoper Hitchens and John Keane.
At a time when there are arguments that foreign language need not be taught in schools, the radio programme is a refreshing reminder of the long tradition in America of disliking hubris, unaccountable power, and even too much wealth. Diverse examples are cited: Wendell Wilkie running for office in 1940 despite no financial support; the welfare state that emerged after the Civil War.
Sontag makes the point that the "loss of innocence" cry that emerges periodically in America can be applied to the drastic change in how the country is run after the early 1960's. I'd add that she speaks clearly to the experience of the American expat who grew up abroad a few decades ago: in many ways, America of the 1950's lived on far beyond the 1950's in expat communities, which nourished those virtues (more prude than the mores of today's America, with its televised promiscuity, yet conservative outrage).
Any contemporary disappointment cannot overshadow (a) the great gift of America's self-critical tradition; (b) the very real ideals that are American that may be diametric to what is happening, but would be rather difficult to write out of existence; (c) the literary inspiration afforded by having a word such as "happiness" in the written constitution.
The legacy I see of America is in the tradition of its higher education system, which has attracted so many of the most proficient thinkers in the world, and trained so many more. I see its public arts programmes as fine as those in Europe (NPR; PBS). And the Library of Congress, which offers personal assistance. Those are truly wonderful things. They constitute a legacy. But on IOT, the point was raised of how the ruthless Frick absolved himself by leaving behind his collection for public enjoyment. What a complicated problem. But it is a gift to be left a legacy. In that name, education needs more funding.
I am not a politician, and I prefer for this blog to remain amateur, so all that is written here ought to be understood in that context. But the way forward I envision for America would be one where it does not forget its critical past. If the constitution was written over America's much longer past, it would be a shame for history to repeat itself in the writing-out of other people, as per the suggestion to stop teaching foreign languages. A friend mentioned that in the olden days, the immigrant would forget their mother tongue to become "more American": understanding that "enables us to better understand the xenophobia surrounding 'foreigners and their languages' in the 1950's".
But I can name several "foreigners" whose retained native identity was to the great benefit of America. Once upon a time, America was welcoming to those who would carry their weight and make some form of contribution, if that contribution was only, like that of some famed writers, in appreciating its nature.