The Fourth is More Than Our National Holiday. It’s Our National Mirror
Reflections on the Fourth of July, 2021
You and I are probably like most Americans on this Fourth of July. In looking back over the past year, over the past 245 years, and over the years to come, we feel a wide range of thoughts and emotions. As well we should.
I decided a long time ago that anything less than conflicting feelings would be a waste – and lazy. This country has always been a mix of hope and despair, of promise and frustration, of pure heart and corrupt soul.
This is a big, complicated, long running experiment. Did any of us really think everything was supposed to go well, all the time? We know better. And we know that is OK.
The Beauty of the United States Has Always Been its Potential and its Promise
Others from around the world see it the same way. They know our faults and shortcomings. Still, they come, come here, to reinvent themselves. While they are at it, they reinvent America. This is our secret.
That the Trumpsters never understood this, that they tried to wall in America, was their greatest sin. We are, and always have been, a nation of “Others” who strived to be “Us.”
I long ago lost track of the inspiring immigrant stories I have heard first-hand. So often, they represent the best of us.
Given the challenges of the past year, and for most of us, the shame and despair of the past four years, it is understandable that many of us despair. So too the hate and anger we see around us makes one wonder if we will ever get this right.
Indeed, it would be a rare year in which crimes have not been committed against some of our fellow citizens based solely on their race or ethnicity. This is our original sin. Still, we struggle to face it.
But Wait a Minute
Perspective helps. Our history has always been of turmoil and competing visions. It was not that long ago that it took the National Guard to integrate a handful of schools. Even the 101st Airborne Division was deployed to advance civil rights in education. Not long after, the country almost split in half over the Vietnam war. Our cities were burning in race riots.
At one point, people were having their lives and careers ruined because someone called them a communist. In earlier years, people faced the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the life and death struggles of Westward expansion (and what that meant for Native Americans).
Oh, and you might recall that we had a Civil War. Some of us are, remarkably – and wrongly – still fighting that one, still on the wrong side.
And yet, the nation perseveres. We get a lot wrong. Progress has not been a straight line. It never will be. It has often been more steps backwards than forward. We have failed miserably to right many old wrongs. We face daunting new challenges.
But in so many ways, we are making progress. This is, in spite of it all, a better country than it was years ago in many ways. Better than we might have hoped. But nowhere near good enough. We have work to do, don’t we?
Let Us Praise and Let Us Curse
So, yeah, let’s be a bit schizophrenic.
I harbor great admiration for many that laid to the path to today. Those who exhibited courage, vision, perseverance, and grace. I embrace the vision of what this country could be. The potential is overwhelming.
I thank those who show up every day and strive to live our values. I am grateful beyond measure that sanity, civility, compassion, and competence are again resident in the White House.
Join me in damning those who hold us back. Share my frustration that we are still so far from where we should be in so many ways. A little rage is in order, me thinks, for what passes for political, religious, and social leadership in some corners today. America deserves better. Celebrate where we see it, call it out where it is absent.
Happy Birthday, America. Keep at it. We can do this.
A Footnote on the Celebrations
I was struck by the celebrations around the nation, how often people said what meant the most to them was being in a really big crowd of other Americans. We missed each other. Not a bad sign.
And how about the celebration in the nation’s capital? I have been on the Mall a couple of times, but almost never watch it on TV. It so often is a pretty lifeless affair. Not this year.
The people that produced that thing deserve a shout out. They took the lessons from the Democratic convention and the inauguration. They used technology to bring in performances and crowds from all over America. The performances were stirring and varied.
It felt like we were all invited. Well done, folks. That was one heck of a birthday party. Thank you.
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