Smack in the center of my hometown there sits a wonderful, towering castle, with a 12th century keep and walls so thick that the city noise vanishes once you enter the grounds.

Thirty minutes away sits the Atlantic Ocean.

Both gifts were taken utterly for granted by me. The castle grounds were entered on very few occasions and the ocean visited even less. The first rule of human nature is that familiarity breeds, if not quite contempt, then complacency.

It has always been interesting, along these same lines, that so many Americans seem complacent about the towering global status of their nation. That everything the United States does is followed with interest by the populations of Europe, Africa and Asia is considered, if it is considered at all, as part of the natural order.

The retirement last week of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the U.S. Supreme Court will be well noted across the world because it is an important matter for the United States, and what is important for the United States matters to the world.

On the same day Justice Kennedy announced his retirement, three judges were appointed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. For the record, their names were Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lord Justice Sales. Not that it matters, of course. Few noticed because few care.

America matters.

Place names like Deadwood and Laramie and Dodge City and Colorado and Oklahoma and Tombstone are not just names to my ear. They ring with the romance of the Wild West, so much so that sometimes I regret visiting them and discovering that, like everywhere else, they have traffic lights and Burger Kings.

The names, too — Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, Jackson and Lincoln. The Roosevelts, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Edison, DeMille, John Ford, Whitman, Twain, Cather, Emerson, Douglass, King.

Such names.

When I was a child, we kept an Oxfam box on the window sill, into which we placed our pennies, the better to help the starving children of China, or Biafra, or Bangladesh, or India or any number of places.

We never worried about Idaho or Montana.

America, I knew from all those television shows, was a land of horses and cattle trails, and funny cops and beautiful genies and TV remotes and dozens of flavors of ice cream.

And if, as I would eventually discover, some people had it better than others, well, then, there was an awful lot of debate about how best to rectify the inequality.

I don’t know what chapter we moderns occupy in the history of America, though I pray we are nowhere near the end.

I do know what came in prior chapters.

Hordes of peasants populate those pages, their stories of hope and desperation captured in great novels and great movies, their struggles to survive in the ghettos and the factories of the New World evincing very little privilege and a whole lot of suffering.

It is a magnificent legacy of struggle, survival and triumph.

I have always loved the story, and honor it again today, on the 242nd anniversary of the day the world changed forever.

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