What started long ago as a celebration of independence from the rule of a foreign power has become something very different today. The Fourth of July was once a day when Americans celebrated their independence and their way of life. In too many cases, it’s ended up becoming a worship of state and a celebration of militarism.
As a result, I don’t enjoy as much about the Fourth of July as some people do. I look at the nationalistic elements that have crept in and become dominant for so many people — and I cringe. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to love what it originally stood for. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a part of an extended family celebrating our homes and our lives.
I wrote Tuesday about how people have come to associate words such as “conservative” and “liberal” with political positions. I’m not that kind of conservative and haven’t been for more than 20 years. But I’m a traditionalist in many ways. I’m an odd mix. I love many things about the modern world, but I feel a tug to a past that I’ve never experienced. In the truest sense of the word, I’m a conservative in those ways. There’s much about the values and lifestyle of our past that I want to conserve, and I’m extremely conservative in my own lifestyle.
I still want a family and a home among neighbors who still understand what family values are, at least broadly defined, not as defined by a political group. I want to be able to have children who grow up excited about a day off and a parade and fireworks — with the feeling that there’s something to celebrate about the place where they have their roots.
I’m afraid of the government of this country. I don’t worship the coercive state. I don’t respect the coercive state. I don’t support the government’s military adventures around the world. All of those things about this day are scary to me. I don’t celebrate them in the least.
I celebrate the idea of America — the part of this place that has led millions and millions of people to see it as the best place on Earth, as the place where they dreamed of living. I celebrate the families and neighborhoods and friends that combine to make up the people of the country. We’re certainly not united, and I’m not going to pretend we are. But in smaller, voluntary clusters, many of those groups are awesome and kind and loving. In many ways, a huge chunk of the American people are truly good people, at least as good as we know how to be on this Earth.
For many of us, we live with the knowledge that our ancestors came to this continent and stole land from the natives and murdered many of them, even mistreating the ones who survived. What happened was a terrible injustice. But I can’t change what happened then, and I’m not willing to take responsibility for what happened far before I was born.
So on this day of patriotic excess and worship of state, I’m willing to set all that aside and remember the things I love, the people I love and the family I hope to have to be a part of it in some way.
This country isn’t perfect and I don’t care about being part of a political nation-state, but when I think about a future in which my children can experience a safe and happy life with other people — and understand the good things about the place from which they came — it makes me happy.
I can’t claim to love the coercive government here, but I do love the idea of what America was once supposed to be. I even have hope for the ways in which that idea can survive and thrive.