If you’re an American and you’re anything like me, you may be approaching this Fourth of July with mixed emotions.
You may be disgusted by the current state of political affairs and disillusioned by the direction our country appears to be heading in, and hesitant to celebrate a holiday commemorating the birth of a nation still capable of so much hate.
Or, perhaps you’re on the other side of the fence, wondering when the partisan bickering, criticism, and investigation will end, when violent protests will cease, and when we will finally come together as a nation.
Either way, you may be tempted to ask: When did we lose our way? Where did we go wrong?
Allow me to answer those queries with another question: When have we actually gotten it right?
From the inception of this democratic experiment we call the United States of America, freedoms have ebbed and flowed. Triumphs of liberty have been followed shortly by relapses of oppression and injustice.
This nation was founded on principles of liberty and justice for all. All, of course, referred only to white, property-owning males. Minorities, women, and the poor weren’t really people, so they surely didn’t deserve the same palette of freedoms and rights that those blessed with superior ethnicity, gender and wealth were afforded.
From this misguided beginning, things only got worse.
African-Americans were brought to this country by the millions. Sold by their own rich countrymen. Enslaved. Mistreated. Oppressed. Raped.
Finally, slavery was abolished, and for a short period of time, things got better. African-Americans held jobs. Held political office.
Then, Jim Crow and segregation created a system in which, in some cases, African-Americans were worse off than they were whilst enslaved.
Native Americans were kicked off their land. Given smallpox blankets. Tricked. Massacred. They left a Trail of Tears.
Then, white men decided to make reparations. They provided Natives with usually subpar land and their own set of laws and rights. In the end, conditions on reservations were such that Native Americans found themselves in more perilous circumstances than they were in while fighting for their land and their lives. Alcoholism and drug abuse. Rampant poverty. Disease.
Women were finally given the right to vote, the right to work. Equal rights. Equal standing in the eyes of the law. What happened next is up for debate, but most women in the workplace will tell you that misogyny and discrimination are alive and well. The glass ceiling is real. So is rampant objectification. Sex trafficking. The porn industry. Rape. Sexual assault.
Japanese-Americans were rounded up during World War II. Thrown into what amounted to concentration camps.
The Civil Rights Movement ended segregation, providing African-Americans with a whole host of opportunities not afforded them before. Then, those below the poverty line were pushed into slums by the never-ending onslaught of gentrification. Gangs. Drugs. Violence.
Then, police started shooting unarmed black people over and over again.
Other races suffered too. Immigrants from Ireland. Mexico. India. All across the globe. Forced into five low-paying jobs because of their nationality and immigration status, barely able to feed their families. Refugees were denied entry by the tens of thousands simply because of their country of origin.
Poor of all backgrounds were victimized by various economic theories and policies that favored the rich. Trickle-down Reaganomics. Unaffordable healthcare. CEOs who took billion-dollar bonuses while their employees worked for minimum wage.
After 9/11, innocent Muslims and even Sikhs became the victims of hate crimes. Mosques were burned. People wearing anything resembling Muslim attire were insulted, spurned, beaten, killed.
Homosexuals and transgender individuals were lynched, beaten, threatened, bullied. Why? Because they wanted equal rights. Because they wanted to be treated like people. Because this country was founded on principles of separation of church and state, and was never intended to be a Christian nation that forced its citizens to adhere to Biblical values, but rather a welcoming haven for those of differing belief systems.
This vicious cycle continues.
Forgetting history, I firmly believed that we’d made progress under Obama. We’d elected someone who took liberty seriously. Someone who believed in freedom for all, even those who don’t look or sound like us, who don’t believe or think like us. Someone who improved our standing in the eyes of the world, who understood that we’re a global economy, a global community.
I was finally proud to call myself an American, both at home and when I traveled internationally.
Then, “Make America Great Again” happened, and the beast of hatred once again reared its ugly head for all to see.
I’m a white, American, Christian male. Ironically, I belong to the only demographic that our petulant, unstable man-child of a President actually doesn’t have anything offensive to say about. Yet I dislike these four characteristics of mine, not because they are inherently negative, but because of what they connote, because of what many of those who share my demographic have chosen to become.
I’m white, but I believe that skin color is but the absence or presence of pigment, nothing more. We are all human. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. There is so much beauty in diversity.
I’m American, but I love to travel. I don’t believe in isolationism or imperialism. I love learning from other cultures. I love experiencing life through the lens of those from vastly different places and backgrounds. Our nation is but one of hundreds, and we are all in this together.
I’m Christian, but I believe I am here on this Earth to love, not to judge and preach. To listen to those who believe differently than I do, not to shove my dogma down their throats. I believe that there is truth in every religion, and this truth only serves to strengthen what I believe, not water it down or weaken it.
I’m male, but I cry more than most women I know. I believe that men and women and transgender people are equals in every way, deserving of the same treatment, the same rights, the same respect. I believe women have the right to walk down a street alone without being harassed. Catcalled. Approached. Threatened. Abducted.
Human rights shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Neither should the environment. Neither should affordable healthcare.
Is there room for me in today’s United States? Do I belong here? I’m not sure.
I know there are many who share my beliefs, though.
I know we are needed.
To be fair, we on the left are far from perfect, either. Welfare programs, while good-intentioned, create hordes of lazy, unemployed individuals who suckle off the government teat with no intentions of bettering themselves. Homelessness runs rampant, especially in my home city of Portland, and the city turns a blind eye in the name of freedom. Healthcare is far from perfect. Stricter gun control laws don’t necessarily translate to reduced crime rates.
The simple fact is that we all are flawed humans. Sinful. Selfish. Shameful.
“And crown thy good with brotherhood…”
Our country stretches from sea to shining sea, encompassing breathtaking natural beauty. Yellowstone. Zion. Crater Lake. Acadia. The Everglades. The list goes on.
Oh, that our hearts were as beautiful as our land.
This Fourth of July, though, thou shalt not dwell on the state of our nation or the questionable mental stability of our Commander-in-Chief. Do as I say, not as I do.
This Fourth of July, be thankful for what you do have. Family. Friends. Health. Love. A roof over your head.
This Fourth of July, resolve to be the change you wish to see. Even though our nation has not, and will not, live up to our lofty ideals of freedom for all, you and I can still live out what our country cannot. Treat everyone with respect. Recognize that our diversity is a source of strength. Honor and support those who believe differently from you. Love. Give. Serve.
Then, go stimulate the economy by spending a bunch of money on fireworks, and then blow them up, because ‘Murica.