Despite the real difficulties and challenges, the candle has not gone out. What makes this country great is still there.

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DETROIT, Michigan — You never quite know what you’re going to find driving into Detroit on a quiet Tuesday night as June draws to a close. I hadn’t been to the Motor City since 2018 and that year I spent my time between a suburban hotel, a suburban Target and a suburban sports complex. I was officiating and competing in a karate tournament, so it would be fair to say I didn’t see much of the city. Four years and a pandemic later, I can report that despite taking a beating, Detroit has plenty of charm and beauty to offer. Kind of like the country you’re in, thanks to the people who refuse to give up on the American ideal.

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I’m not particularly patriotic. Days like the 1st of July or the 4th of July are, at best, terrible excuses to gorge on hot dogs and cheap beer. I don’t think either country should be in a celebratory mood. In Canada because of the children we haven’t yet identified buried near residential schools, and in the United States because it’s starting to feel too close to them. Gilead.

I am Canadian by birth and citizenship, and American at heart. I have traveled the United States, driving from one place to another, since I was a little boy. I have big issues with where the culture wars are taking the country, and I can’t believe how, in the face of the diabolical buffoonery that the Trump party represents, the Democrats have only sheepish incompetence to offer.

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But as I wandered the streets of a revitalized downtown Detroit, I saw a lot of hope. Despite the real difficulties and challenges, the candle has not gone out. What makes this country great is still there. It’s in the love you feel when you walk into an inclusive coffee shop, the empathy you experience when people smile at each other without judging those who look or sound different, and the generosity you see in public art in unexpected corners.

The best thing about Canada is the compassion and kindness of its people. The best thing about the United States is the gregarious love and welcoming spirit of its people. And that can-do attitude.

As my regular reader knows, I spend a lot of time in Huntsville, Alabama. Although it recently overtook Birmingham as the state’s most populous city, it’s still small. But it has the heart and mindset of a much bigger place. The opening and the possibilities too.

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This helps explain why I spend so much time there. But it’s not just me; US World and News Report recently named Huntsville the best place live across the country.

In April, I attended a Rock the Vote event put on by Huntsville’s formidable community development organization, the committee of 100. Present were candidates of all stripes and colors, from Trumpist to progressive (well, for Alabama anyway). Everyone in the same space, everyone welcome to talk and discuss and ask questions, everyone eager to share ideas and good cheer. I have been to many political events in my time, but I have never been to one so welcoming.

One man I met there is Chad “Chig” Martin, who grew up in a community of peanut farmers and decided to defy the overwhelming odds against him and run for governor with limited funding from ordinary citizens looking for a change. Seeing no candidate he could support, Martin thought he’d put his name on it and give it a try. He did not win the party’s nomination from him. But as he says, “what I learned is that you can only fail if you really try to achieve something.”

I would say that what he has done is not a failure. Because it shows what can be achieved when good people work hard and refuse to give up what makes their community, and their country, the best it can be.

Today, as people get rid of their hotdogs, I want to say, please, never give up on those ideals. My heart depends on it.

brigitte pellerin is a writer from Ottawa who travels frequently to the United States.

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