On the day that fireworks are going off and everything looks like the American flag threw up on it, a little introspection is nice amidst a family cookout. We’re celebrating something today. If we’re all celebrating being Americans, what is it we’re actually celebrating?
After you ask that, you also have to ask yourself: What is America? What about it is even worth celebrating?
Are we celebrating the ever-present undercurrents of race war?
Are we celebrating the higher-than-ever deficit?
Even if we’re counting positives, can we define America based solely on the astounding dominance we have in military might, our economics, or the freedoms we presently hold?
I don’t think so.
No, to properly celebrate America as a whole, good and bad, from the Founding to today, we have to recognize that America itself is a grand experiment. The Founders thought so. Hamilton, in writing the first of the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution, wanted America to be the first republic founded on “reflection and choice” rather than “accident and force.”
We have, to some extent, done our best. But the government founded on the “proposition that all men are created equal” (to quote Abraham Lincoln) has not ever been anything close to perfect in its execution of that ideal.
From the often-questionable dealings with Native Americans, and the chattel slavery more or less unique to America, to the modern-day police and welfare state, America is often on the defensive for things that seem self-evidently terrible. But America should not be viewed as a perfect nation. Rather, we should continue to see the good, the principles of America, and strive to maintain those.
What principles are those? None other than the essential views of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson wasn’t a perfect President, but he got that part right.
And it is not as if, like many would claim, he was a total hypocrite. His original draft for the Declaration included a rant against slavery that was omitted for two main reasons: because it might tick off South Carolina and Georgia, whose economics relied on slavery; and secondly, because compared to the statesmanlike rest of the document it really was just a vehement rant, if a deserved one.
That spirit of freedom for all that was present in 1776 is what we should seek to create and maintain today. America was the first country dedicated to the guarding of rights, however arbitrarily it has been carried out.
And for an American Christian like myself, that is what I should be celebrating today.
Today, I can celebrate that there is a nation, however flawed, which is in principle dedicated to the political side of my leanings. A nation which has the First Amendment to ensure that I can worship the way I see fit.
The First Amendment may be the most remarkable aspect of America. Written by James Madison, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, the 1A seeks to protect both the consciences of the people and the way they politically act on those consciences. Of course, in a world where concepts like freedom of religion and speech were anathema to most societies, we were the outlier.
As an American Christian, I have the unique opportunity to not only say that the nation I live in supports my ideals, but allows me to not support the same.
It’s just like in landmark free speech cases like Texas v. Johnson, in which Mr. Johnson was charged for burning the American flag.
The flag protects those who would destroy it, and that’s beautiful. America is one of the few countries in the world – some have followed suit, especially in the West – where believing what you want to believe and saying what you want to say is institutionally protected.
That would be enough, of course, but then there’s also the rest of the Bill of Rights to deal with.
This Independence Day, I am celebrating the principles adopted on July 4, 1776. I’m also celebrating when they were put into even sharper focus by the Bill of Rights. I’m not going to pretend like my country has always lived up to its own words. In fact, we’ve usually fallen pretty short. But the liberty movement – we motley crew of crazy people that want to take over the government to leave you alone – should be reclaiming that. That’s why I’m here, anyway.
Now, excuse me. I have to go back to my hot dog.