America is indeed different — and that's why I'm here

America is indeed different — and that's why I'm here
© Getty images

As children, my parents suffered under fascism and then, as adults, under communism.

My father was betrayed by Soviet spy Kim Philby for resisting Hungary's communist dictatorship; he was arrested by the Hungarian secret police, tortured and given a life sentence in a show trial at the age of 20.

Six years later, he was liberated during the Hungarian revolution of 1956. With the 17-year-old daughter of a fellow political prisoner, he made it across the border minefields to an Austrian refugee camp and thence to the United Kingdom, where they married and I would be born and raised. 


Yet, today, I consider myself neither Hungarian nor British.

I am a proud citizen of the United States of America.

As such, as a legal immigrant who chose this nation and chose to be its citizen, this day — July Fourth — has a particularly deep meaning since, for me, America truly is like no other nation. It is the greatest nation on God’s green Earth, the brightest embodiment of Western civilization, the clearest and strongest expression of the eternal truths at the heart of Judeo-Christian culture.

I have a rather broad scale against which to measure my adopted home. Not only did I grow up in the “mother of democracies” under the prime ministership of the great Margaret Thatcher, I also spent 15 years in the land of my parents, a Hungary just emerging from 40 years of socialism. 

Having lived in the West, served in the military reserves of a NATO nation, and speaking fluent Hungarian, I dedicated most of the 1990s to working for Hungary's freely elected post-communist government and then running my own national-security think tank. Those years gave me all the proof I needed of the dangers of socialism and what Marx’s ideology does to the soul of a nation, long after free elections have replaced the politburo. 

Here are some examples from a Hungary considered by many to be one of the real "success stories" of post-communism:

First there was the rampant yet subtle corruption; the need to “grease the wheels” was everywhere. From making sure your application for a bank loan didn’t fester at the bottom of the clerk’s pile, to paying cash to a physician for a successful medical procedure, the free market was more gray than it was transparent, and the cash inducement was king.

Then there was the utter dysfunction of crucial sectors and services. I will never forget, when preparing for the birth of our first child in Budapest, the obstetrician blithely reminding us to bring our own toilet paper to the maternity ward before adding: “Oh, and can you buy me some surgical gloves, too? We’ve run out.” Such dysfunction could be deadly: My 64-year-old mother was hospitalized after a fall and died a week later from a sudden embolism in a ward where not one patient had an oxygen monitor. Not one. That is the reality of “socialized” medicine.

Then, of course, there was politics. No op-ed could ever do justice to the still Byzantine, labyrinthine maze that is post-communist politics all across Central Europe, but one story is enough of an illustration. Having had enough of the corruption and inefficiency, I decided to run for the office of mayor in the village outside Budapest where we had settled; being a candidate was enjoyable, as I attempted to bring a little of what I had seen work in the UK to the land of my ancestors. And I actually won. For an hour.

On the night of the election, after all the votes were in, I had won by the slimmest of margins — 40 votes. But then the local election commissioner reported that, “magically,” exactly 100 votes for my opponent had been found at the bottom of a ballot box and added to his tally. The other candidate was, of course, a former mayor in good standing with the pre-1990 regime. Old habits are hard to kick. Especially for former communists.

This is why, as an only child whose parents had passed away, it was easy for my American wife and me to make the choice we made. And exactly 10 years ago today we arrived in America. Four years later I would officially become an American citizen. And on Jan. 20, 2017, at 12 o'clock, I would become a deputy assistant to the 45th President of the United States, a trajectory very hard — nigh impossible — to replicate in most countries.

America is different. It is special. It is unique. Ours is not a nation defined by an ethnic identity. We are not the result of historic accident or the reflection of some past monarchic, dynastic evolution.

You are an American if you believe in what happened in 1776 and in the truths on which the nation’s founders built our Republic.

Ours is less a nation shaped by the accidents of history; it is far more a system of belief. If you hold all men to be equal because of the innate dignity afforded them by being made in the image of their Creator, then you can be an America. The color of your skin is irrelevant, as is where you were born, who your parents were, what class they came from, or whether you speak English with an accent.

If you believe the individual is the building block of society, not the collective, then you can be an American. If you think central government must have the most limited, clearly enumerated of powers, lest the liberty of the citizen be circumscribed, you can be an American.

Ours is the only country in the world to be founded on the principle of individual liberty. We should remember that every day we are blessed to be its citizens, not just today.

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