What’s left to celebrate on the Fourth of July? As I go to bed to get ready for tomorrow: a race, a BBQ, fireworks; I’ve been troubled by the pessimism I’ve viewed recently.
There are too many problems with the USA. Soaring debt and economic troubles, economists and a Congress that can’t decide which polar-opposite policy to pursue to fix it, schizophrenia about medicine, stupidity ruling our educational system, no solutions for social security, land that isn’t worth much, too many foreigners willing to buy our land and debt, withdrawal in Afghanistan and globally, and a diminishing status in the world. Oh, and we’re the fattest first-world country, too. Cry in your pie, America.
So why celebrate? Well, it’s Our Freedom™, of course! At least if you’re like me. Except that we’re one of 48 countries boasting the highest levels of freedom, it’s not that big of a deal anymore. About 75% of the world’s population is rated “Free” or “Partially Free” by Freedom House, so it’s come to be expected.
We could just be meaninglessly patriotic. We’re still Americans and we should celebrate America, like it or not. Maybe next year will be better. Fake it ’til you make it, that’s the American way. Go team!
There’s more, of course. We look at economic data and frown. We look at our diminished capacities, and it produces questions. These lurking doubts are quickly shouted down by positive thoughts, and positive thinkers, who yell about how great we are, and our resiliency and fortitude and how the Alamo, The Great Depression, The attack on Pearl Harbor, Russia sending Sputnik (and then a man into space) before us didn’t knock us down, it made us stand up and get to work. This is all true, but let’s go back to the question.
The question is: what if we don’t get up and back to work this time? Are we permanently diminished? Is this the new normal? TV and video games have made us soft; can we compete with countries who work their butts off? They have the world to gain, and we can only lose it.
When our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence all those years ago, they had no idea what the world would look like today. They had no inkling that the USA would be the most powerful country in the world. What they did was put our nation in our own hands, for better or for worse. Our citizenship was married to governance, and our markets and press were free; the great experiment was started, and we had to prove ourselves or get gobbled up by a colonial power again.
We’ve done well, but we worry we can’t do it again. But two thoughts: 1) The United States doesn’t need to be dominant to be great and 2) the future depends on many minds contributing.
The United States is not the New York Yankees. We were not meant to win every fight, marching on to glory as we recruit the best to our service. We are another country: patriots, but fallible, who do what needs to be done. Our greatness comes from our ingenuity and endurance. America historically bear-hugs the problem and grapples with it until SOMEONE figures out how to solve the thing. And then we do it. Pre-eminence in the world is an occasional by-product.
When John F. Kennedy said, in a speech that changed America’s trajectory: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” He rallied the people, but more than that he ignited the thinkers and dreamers and doers. America does not move forward by writ from its government. We need the dream, the articulated hope of some better place to work towards. We are America, we the people, and we stand or fall together. The Bill of Rights limited government’s power, of course, but it had just as much to do with accommodating an active citizenry who exercised religion, rallied and assembled, talked about policy, pursued happiness. We must be those active people. Please, to quote JFK again, ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.
When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be running a 4-mile race in the sleepy town of Steilacoom. I need to get better at it than I am today: more disciplined, more focused, more motivated. Writing has become a passion of mine, and it’s the first time in a long time I’ve had a “passion.” I plan to improve daily. I’ll celebrate the Fourth tomorrow by resolving to be the best American I can be, cooking and eating BBQ, and celebrating unabashedly both the legacy and the bright future of this, the greatest nation on God’s green earth.