On this July Fourth, an ode to the greatest country in the world

  • July Fourth is a time for celebration.
  • Americans are the luckiest, most privileged people on the planet.

This July Fourth, in the midst of all the plans for barbecues and baseball games, flags and fireworks, there’s a darker, more pessimistic sense of defeatism lurking. Americans are asking themselves: In the wake of our immigration crisis, at a time when our government sometimes acts in a decidedly un-American fashion, is there anything to celebrate this year?

The answer, of course, is yes.

No country is perfect. There are always going to be periods that are better and worse for the governed and the governing. Periods in which the actions of a country deeply reflect a commitment to its foundational core values, and periods in which those actions directly contradict those core values. But the genius of the founders was creating a system of checks and balances. No system is perfect, and there is always room for abuse to fester. But our system is one that makes those abuses of power that much more difficult.

This country, even in our weakest moments, is a blessing. Our laws, our freedoms, our equality – these are only some of the reasons we have refugees, immigrants, and asylum-seekers thronging at our borders. When talking about all the people who want to come here, and how we should be treating them, we should remember why are trying to come here, to this country, to join this nation.

Throughout the decades, American presidents have used July Fourth as a time to address the nation, reminding us of our responsibilities and of our privileges.

In 1993, Bill Clinton challenged the country to keep changing, improving, always striving for better:

“When Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, he gave our Nation’s bloodiest conflict a sacred, moral purpose, to turn the promises of the Declaration and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights into living realities for all our people.

“It is a struggle we are still waging. Still, we struggle to live in a way that will please a just God. Still, we struggle to live in a way that we can secure for every American, without regard to race or region or station in life, the blessing of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, we struggle to find ways to extend a helping hand of freedom to people throughout the world. No less than those who founded our Republic or fought to keep it together in the Civil War, we too, must have the vision and courage to change, to preserve our unchanging purposes in a dynamic and difficult word.”

In 1962, JFK reminded the nation about its exceptional history – and future: “For 186 years this doctrine of national independence has shaken the globe – and it remains the most powerful force anywhere in the world today.”

In 2001, George W. Bush highlighted the radical nature of the American project:

“A wonderful country was born and a revolutionary idea sent forth to all mankind: Freedom, not by the good graces of government but as the birthright of every individual; equality, not as a theory of philosophers but by the design of our Creator; natural rights, not for the few, not even for a fortunate many but for all people, in all places, in all times.”

These are the words we should spend the day thinking about. Our nation was built with a system of government that is endowed with the power to withstand far worse than the Trump presidency. Put the hysterics aside, grab a hot dog, watch the fireworks with friends and family, and express gratitude at being a citizen of this great country, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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