The Fourth of July is easily my favorite holiday. I love everything about it and always have.
I enjoy sitting in the extreme heat while watching a local parade march by with firetrucks, mascots, marching bands, and old-timers in old-timey cars and motorbikes. I enjoy gorging on hot dogs with copious amounts of yellow mustard and mayo, cheeseburgers, and of course, an ice-cold one in my hands.
And the cherry on top of the day? Fireworks. The booms, the colors, the iconic Americana music, what isn’t there to love?
Unfortunately, depending on who you ask, you might have equal chances of Americans saying there is plenty not to love about the Fourth of July. What about America is all that special anyway? Aren’t we built off of white supremacy and misogyny?
The United States is a living example of an ongoing experiment in a democracy. Our Founding Fathers invented an unprecedented form of governance.
Our elected officials wield power thanks to what we allow as a constituent body. We consent to be governed by our politicians thanks to our vote, which is one of the most powerful tools in an American’s arsenal.
Experiments, by nature, are turbulent. There are unknowns, unseen variables, and adjustments that must be made in any experiment. Our country is no different.
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…”
The line implies growth and imperfection, all while using the word perfect.
There has been a fair amount of debate on whether American Nationalism is bad. Comparisons to Nazi Germany and the like have been made to warn of the danger extreme nationalist ideals and behavior can lead to.
I think it is essential to remember the dark times in our history and be critical of how our country is doing and where it is going. I don’t think it makes us wrong to believe we are unique. The reality is what makes us special doesn’t lie within moments of our history, symbols indicative of our nation, or even specific individual Americans, both past and present.
What makes us special is the fact that America is an idea, and that is what has endured through time. Margaret Thatcher once said:
“Americans and Europeans alike sometimes forget how unique is the United States of America. No other nation has been built upon an idea, the idea of Liberty.”
Like most things worth anything, Liberty is hard and often painful to maintain. One of my favorite coffee mugs has a picture of Patrick Henry and his timeless proclamation; “Give me Liberty! Or give me death!”
Without Liberty, nothing else really matters. Forget the American Dream. The idea that you can forge your own path and build your own fortune turns to dust without the Liberty to do so.
However, the future of American Liberty has never been more unknown than today. A 2019 Pew Research Poll found that 42% of Americans view socialism positively, believing it promotes more fair and equal outcomes across the board.
Not only is this indicative of our failing education system, but it also points to an erosion in the idea of what Liberty means. America doesn’t and shouldn’t promise anyone an equal and easy outcome in their life as the next American.
What America does is promise you have the right to pursue your happiness, your right to life, and, as James Madison believed, the freedom to exercise your mind. Of course, none of that is easy, but nothing worthwhile is.
In the Sermon of the Mount in the Bible’s Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his followers, “Ye are the light of the world. A city is set on a hill cannot be hid.” The City on the Hill monicker has been adopted to describe the United States by numerous Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy.
But what does that mean? To be a City on the Hill is to be something that others look up to and aspire to. We act as an ever-present lighthouse helping other countries navigate the tricky waters of Liberty and democracy.
To understand the impact of the United States on the rest of the world, the best thing to do is look at the numbers. In 1946 only 29% of countries were democracies on this blue marble we call Earth. By 2017 there were more democracies than autocracies.
But is our light dimming? According to an NBC News poll, Americans surveyed described our country as going ‘downhill,’ ‘divisive,’ ‘struggling,’ and ‘lost.’
Of those surveyed, 72% of Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction. Moreover, a whopping 76% believe our democracy as we know it is threatened.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:
“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Americans tend to make up their minds on issues based on the values they hold dear. An argument could be made that our values have become irrevocably split, tearing apart the country as we know it.
I tend to utilize a lot of quotes in my writing, mainly because I am not nearly as articulate as those wise men and women who came before me. Still, I also think there is value in those words from yesteryear. Thomas Jefferson once said:
“…whenever you are to do a thing tho’ it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, & act accordingly.”
The same can be said for our nation. The whole world does watch what we do and has since the beginning of our birth.
Have we been setting a good example? Only time will tell. But more than just this, American hopes that the idea behind our country, Liberty, survives. Not just for us but for the rest of the world too.
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