Remembering who we are on our Independence Day

Most nations are built around a culture.  They grow through the ages from the soil beneath them by a natural process. Even in countries like France and Russia which were shaped by ideological revolutions, a national identity is defined by a shared language, history and religion.  No so in America.

The United States is an adopted home for all its people.  Americans are the children of a choice.  My ancestors came from Scotland and England and Ireland and Denmark and God knows where else, but I trace my lineage to a stiflingly hot room in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776.

On that foundation we have grown into a people of peoples.  A fifteen minute drive from neighborhood to neighborhood in this country can present as many jarring cultural challenges as a drive from Belgium to Morocco.  There is no single America, there is no typical American, and as long as she is strong and prosperous and vital there never will be.

That we have been able to hold this rowdy experiment together as long as we have stands as one of mankind’s greatest achievements.  The debt of that legacy rests heavy on each new generation that endeavors to take on its benefits and burdens.

Independence Day offers an opportunity to remember who we are.  We are heirs to an impossible idea made real.  We are living proof that things can work out for the best.  We are Optimism’s strongest example.

It is our privilege as free people to argue with one another, disagree, listen, and compromise to work out a future for ourselves.  How easy it is to forget that our political squabbles are a precious gift.  The world is full of people who don’t argue over politics because they have no hand in such matters.  A free people should view unity with some suspicion.  But equality means we can’t ask some lord or king or other appointed grown-up to intervene to impose reason.

We’re it.  We’re all we’ve got.  We’re in charge.

So on July 4, celebrate your independence by arguing with a neighbor or a friend or an enemy over politics.  Remember what an honor it is to belong to a place where our arguments matter, where our opinions count.  And let’s remember that along with our freedom to work out our future together comes a duty to live with the results.  No one else is going to clean up for us.  Our country is as wise, as strong, as durable, and as good as we are.

God Bless America.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

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  • Its funny how when people wax patriotic, and they seem to forget the whole experience of Black people in America. Don't get me wrong, I love America as much as the next guy, but Black in America is not the beloved immigrant experience so often drawn upon when people wax patriotic. Neither is that of the Native American. We could trace our origins back to, well not much. To the contrary, Black in America is still a test of freedom and equality in America, a test America has yet to pass by the way. Yes, even in this day and age of a Black President, we still struggle to find the America of lore.

  • In reply to B K Ray:

    @BK Ray, your comment is proving the underlying point of this article. That's what's funny.

  • In reply to B K Ray:

    B K,

    Interesting point. I think African-Americans often feel conflicted when people, as you say, "wax patriotic" about America. Chris Rock summed it up pretty well when he explained, "I love America, but if you're black you gotta look at America as the uncle that paid your way through college,...but molested you."

    The point of the article of course is that America is not just one people or one race, but a conglomeration of people whose shared heritage rises from an idea. I would argue that the black experience is an example of that point, not an exception to it.

    Finally, a link to an article I wrote in the Houston Chronicle blogs on the mixed meaning of the growth of black participation in the GOP,

  • From the immortal patriotic words of the greatest immigrant in the history of American immigrants:

    "Wax on. Wax off." -Mr. Miyagi

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