Sunday, January 2, 2022

10 Things to Love About America

By Peggy Noonan.............

Am­jad Masad came to Amer­ica in Jan­uary 2012. He was from Am­man, Jor­dan, and 24. He came be­cause his fa­ther, a Pales­tin­ian im­mi­grant to Jor­dan and a gov­ern­ment worker, bought him a com­puter when he was 6. Am­jad fell in love and dis­cov­ered his true lan­guage. He stud­ied the his­tory of the com­puter and be­came en­am­ored of the U.S. and Sil­i­con Val­ley. He imag­ined the lat­ter as a fu­tur­is­tic place with fly­ing cars and float­ing build­ings. He saw the 1999 movie “Pi­rates of Sil­i­con Val­ley,” about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and de­cided Amer­ica was the place he must be.

His mem­ory of ar­riv­ing at John F. Kennedy In­ternational Air­port is a jum­ble, but what he saw from the bridge go­ing into Man­hat­tan was un­for­get­table—the New York sky­line gleam­ing in the dis­tance. It was like a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence. He was here.

He set­tled in New York, worked at a startup, then moved west—he needed to be in Sil­i­con Val­ley. Five years ago he be­came co-founder and CEO of Replit, a com­pany that of­fers tools to learn pro­gram­ming. It em­ploys 40 peo­ple full-time and 10 con­trac­tors.

On Tues­day af­ter­noon Mr. Masad, who be­came a cit­i­zen in 2019, thought about the 10th an­niver­sary of his ar­rival. He was so grate­ful for three things: a com­pany, a fam­ily, a house. He and his wife and busi­ness part­ner, Haya Odeh, also from Jor­dan, started talk­ing about Amer­ica. At 3:56 p.m. ET, he posted a Twit­ter thread.

“I landed in the United States 10 years ago with noth­ing but credit card debt. Af­ter one startup exit, one big tech job, and one uni­corn, I gen­uinely be­lieve that it wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble any­where else in the world. Here are 10 things that I love about this coun­try:

“1. Work Ethic. First thing I no­ticed was that every­one re­gard­less of oc­cu­pa­tion took pride in do­ing a bang-up job, even when no one looked. I asked peo­ple: ‘why do you pour every­thing into a job even when it is seem­ingly thank­less?’ And it was like ask­ing fish ‘what is wa­ter?’

“2. Lack of cor­rup­tion. In the 10 years in the US, I’ve never been asked for a bribe, and that’s sur­pris­ing. When you know that you pre­dictably get to keep a size­able por­tion of the value you cre­ate and that no one will ar­bi­trar­ily stop you, it makes it eas­ier to be am­bi­tious.

“3. Win-win mind­set. Peo­ple don’t try to screw you on deals, they play the long game, and align in­cen­tives in such a way that every­one wins. This is es­pe­cially ap­par­ent in Sil­i­con Val­ley where you can’t un­der­es­ti-mate any­one be­cause one day you might be work­ing for them.

“4. Re­ward­ing tal­ent. From sports to en­gi­neer­ing, Amer­ica is ob­sessed with prop­erly re­ward­ing tal­ent. If you’re good, you’ll get rec­og­nized. The mar­ket for tal­ent is dy­namic—if you don’t feel val­ued to­day, you can find a bet­ter place to­mor­row.

“5. Open to weirdos. Be­cause you never know where the next tech, sports, or arts in­no­va­tion will come from, Amer­ica had to be open to weird­ness. Weirdos thrive with­out be­ing crushed. We em­ploy peo­ple with the most in­ter­est­ing back-grounds—dropouts to artists—they’re awe­some!

“6. For­give­ness. Weird and in­no­v­ative peo­ple have to put them­selves out there, and as part of that, they’re go­ing to make mis­takes in pub­lic. The cul­ture here val­ues au­then­tic­ity, and if you’re au­then­tic and open about your fail­ures, you’ll get a sec­ond and a third chance.

“7. Ba­sic in­frastructure. Amer­i­cans take care of their pub­lic spa­ces. Parks are clean, sub­ways and busses run on time, and util­i­ties & ser­vices just work. Be­cause life can be liv­able for a time with­out in­come, it was pos­si­ble for us to quit our jobs and boot­strap our busi­ness.

“8. Op­ti­mism. When you step foot in the US there is a pal­pa­ble sense of op­ti­mism. Peo­ple be­lieve that to­mor­row will be bet­ter than to­day. They don’t know where progress will come from, but that’s why they’re open to dif­fer­ences. When we started up even un­be­liev­ers en­cour­aged us.

“9. Free­dom. Clearly a cliche, but it’s to­tally true. None of the above works if you’re not free to ex­plore & tin­ker, to build com­pa­nies, and to move freely. I still find it amaz­ing that if I re­spect the law and oth­ers, I can do what­ever I want with­out be­ing com­pelled/re­stricted.

“10. Ac­cess to cap­i­tal. It’s a lot harder to in­no­vate & try to change the world with­out cap­i­tal. If you have a good idea & track record, then some­one will be will­ing to bet on you. The re­spect for en­tre­pre­neur-ship in this coun­try is in­spir­ing. And it makes the whole thing tick.”

I was sent the thread by email and thought: Beau­ti­ful. So much on the list is what I see. Hard­work­ing: In my town every­one from bi­cy­cle de­liv­ery­men to mas­ters and mis­tresses of the uni­verse work them­selves like rented mules. And, some­how most mov­ing, that we’re open to weirdos: We al­ways have been; it’s in our DNA; it ex­plains a lot of our pol­i­tics and cul­ture; it’s good that it con­tin­ues. “This Is Us.”

At the end, Mr. Masad said he was speak­ing gen­er­ally, that char­ac­ter lim­its don’t in­vite nu­ance, that there’s no call to sit back self-sat­is­fied, that every­thing can be made bet­ter. But he added a warn­ing: “Many of the things that I talked about are un­der threat, largely from peo­ple who don’t know how spe­cial they have it. Amer­ica is worth pro­tect­ing, and re­al­iz­ing that progress can be made with­out de­stroy­ing the things that made it spe­cial.”

The thread went vi­ral and he was en­gulfed in feed­back. The re­ac­tion, he said Wednes­day by phone from his Palo Alto, Calif., home, “was over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive.” Tellingly, “the ma­jor­ity of the real pos­i­tive, heart­warm­ing, ex­cited feed­back has been from other im­mi­grants. They add to the list what they ap­pre­ci­ate.” He noted the num­ber of na­tive-born Amer­i­cans telling him, “Wow, this is an out­side per­spec­tive that I don’t have.”

Mr. Masad got the most push­back on in­frastructure. He stood his ground. When he got to New York, Cen­tral Park was a beau­ti­fully main­tained gem, and on the streets he ap­pre­ciated “the mu­sic, the arts, free con­certs, ran­dom pop­ups—all for free and open to all.” By infrastructure, he also meant our sys­tem of laws and arrange­ments. “When we started the com­pany, we got our health in­sur­ance through Oba­ma­Care,” to keep costs down. It worked.

Any­way, the thread was a breath of fresh air.

The past few years, maybe decades, we’ve be­come an in­creas­ingly self-damn­ing peo­ple. As a na­tion we harry our­selves into a state of per­ma­nent de­pres­sion over our fail­ures and flaws and what we imag­ine, be­cause we keep be­ing told, is the in­nate wicked­ness of our sys­tem, which keeps jus­tice from hap­pen­ing and life from be­ing good.

Maybe we got car­ried away. Maybe we have it wrong. Maybe those who are new here and ob­serve us with fresh eyes see more clearly than we do. As long as our im­mi­grants are talk­ing like this, maybe we’ve still got it goin’ on. What a wel­come thought. Thank you, Am­jad Masad.

God bless all Americans, old and new, here by birth, belief or both, as we arrive together in an unknown place called 2022. Let’s keep our eyes fresh, shall we? 

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