Back in 2004, before I ever thought of running for public office, a friend asked me which party I belonged to. I gave her my honest answer: “I don’t know.”

She asked a follow-up question: “Well, what do you believe?” I did know that.

As someone who ran our small family business, I wanted government to make it easier for job creators to grow and give back to their communities. As an accountant, I wanted government to live within its means instead of taking more from hard-working families. As a mom, I wanted a country where my children would be free to live up to their potential and live out their dreams. And as the daughter of Indian immigrants, I believed deeply in America’s promise — that this is a land of unlimited opportunity and optimism, where anyone can achieve anything.

I’ve spent the better part of the past two decades fighting for these beliefs, including as governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations. My greatest passion is lifting people up. So it’s frustrating to see that in America today, there are so many barriers blocking the way, with new ones arising at a worrying pace.

If there’s a phrase that defines our time, it’s “hurting in the name of helping.” You see it all over the place. An education system that keeps the next generation from learning. Government spending that spikes inflation and drives up the national debt, robbing families coming and going. One-size-fits-all mandates that cripple Main Street. There’s even discrimination in pursuit of racial equality and violence in the name of urban peace.

It’s sad to see. So much of what you see is supposedly “progressive,” but it’s taking our country and people backward. It’s not just unjust. It’s un-American. We should all refuse to let it stand.

Lifting up our fellow citizens and future generations is a matter of policy, but even more so, it’s a matter of principle. To secure a brighter future for every American, we need to remember and restore the foundation of America itself.

The place to start is the economy, which is sprinting toward socialism. There are growing demands to put Washington, D.C., in control of daily life. The left is the loudest, with its terrifying plans for welfare-for-all and a government powerful enough to kill any job and crush any dream. But these calls are also coming from too many on the right who should know better.

On both sides, the argument can be boiled down to this: We can solve any problem by putting our trust in government. My response is “no thank you.” I put my trust in the American people instead.

There’s no combination of elected or unelected experts, elites and do-gooders who are smarter than the American people. The more than 330 million women and men and children who call America home are infinitely creative and capable of creating opportunities for themselves and their communities. They simply need the chance to prove it by pursuing their passions, something socialism only stifles.

Instead of giving Washington control over people, we should be giving the people control over their own lives and futures, like I did as governor of South Carolina. The inner-city kid who wants a better life, the single mom who needs a job, the factory worker who wants a raise, the college student who wants to turn their brilliant idea into a booming small business — they and every American are counting on capitalism. Just as importantly, they need corporations to stop playing politics and start improving lives.

Lifting up people demands a better education system too. The pandemic left the next generation of Americans falling behind, worsening deep-seated problems that have long existed in the classroom. There has never been a bigger need for reform. Children and families deserve the freedom to choose the school they want — no exceptions. What’s best for them is best for our country’s future.

The pandemic also highlighted long-standing problems with health care. It’s wrong that millions of Americans can’t afford or access the treatments that could save their lives. It’s long past time to break the barriers that block patient choice and medical innovation while making health care more expensive. And there’s never a time to build more barriers or give federal bureaucrats control over what kind of care we get or when, where, and how we get it. That failed approach will only cost more of Americans’ time, money and lives.

Culture is equally critical. We can have the best economy, education and health care system in the world, but it won’t matter if we don’t have confidence in our deepest convictions and highest ideals.

How can our country claim to empower people if we don’t protect the lives of the unborn? How can we ensure a better future for American citizens and legal immigrants if we can’t control our borders? How can people hope to climb the ladder of opportunity if their cities aren’t safe and the police are under siege? And how can we strive to give everyone the best shot at the best life if we’re too busy dividing people by gender and race?

It’s deeply worrying that anger and hatred toward America are growing. This problem runs deeper than so-called “wokeism,” and it’s bigger than critical race theory. The moment we reject the principles at America’s heart and accept the lie that our country is racist and rotten to the core, we throw away any chance of national progress. Instead, we’ll go in the wrong direction, toward no freedom, no equality and no rule of law.

By all means, let’s root out discrimination and injustice wherever they exist, and let’s do it by applying America’s principles more fully. Take it from me, the first female governor of South Carolina and the first minority female governor in the United States: America is not a racist country.

America’s promise is just the opposite: a country of boundless optimism and limitless opportunity for all. We cannot let that promise slip away or stay out of reach for so much as one person. I’ve known that my whole life, and I’ll keep fighting for all the American people as long as I live.