As we all gather with loved ones to celebrate the 4th of July, it is important to remember that this holiday is not about fireworks, parades, or barbecues. It is the celebration of Independence Day. As a follower of History, I love this holiday. I love that I can tell people that the Forth is technically not anniversary of the States declaring their Independence (that was on July 2nd ) or that many of the signers of the Declaration did not sign it until several weeks after the forth. I love the 4th of July because I get to think about how a bunch of colonies, absolutely divided over many things, combined together to break free of the only master they ever knew. There was a word that was used to describe the people of these colonies who rebelled against the King. That word was Patriot.
These original Patriots were a pretty interesting bunch. Sadly, many of us are taught in Elementary and High School that our founding fathers where a bunch of deeply religious and principled men who were mad about paying too much in taxes and decided to fight for their freedom. The truth is significantly more complicated. The founding fathers were people who disagreed steadfastly on many things and only agreed on the path to Independence by very small margins.
Today, many on the right side of the political spectrum have claimed that they are the true patriots. They claim the left is somehow less patriotic because, according to them, we hold less reverence to the founding fathers and their alleged principles. It was this theory that led Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) to attack the patriotism of Barack Obama or for convicted felon and right wing author Dinesh D’Souza to produce profitable movies about how the left is trying to destroy America.
I once heard it said that those on the right dream of returning to a great society of the past that never really existed, and those on the left dream of a more utopian future that can never be obtained. I will admit there is a certain amount of truth in that. Those on the right have held up the founding fathers as saints, who created a country and a way of thinking that should never be challenged or changed. They believe that any effort to change anything the founding fathers established is somehow “un-American” .
On the left, we believe that we must take what is good with America and work to make it better. Bill Clinton said it best when he said “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is great with America”. The problems we have today with income inequality, with pollution and global climate change, with lack of human rights for the GLBT population, with immigration, with the national deficit or with any other major challenge the country faces will be made better by the greatness of America.
The reality is that much like our original founding fathers, there is often few things that all of us agree on. However, I will submit to you that Americans on the left and on the right are patriots. We are all working hard, in the public square to debate ideals and beliefs that will make America a better country. That is what is truly great about our country.
So may you all have a happy and festive Independence Day celebration. You are all patriots.