Of the 10 most widely recognized federal holidays, only 1 in 20 Americans say that the Fourth of July is their favorite — far behind Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.
I think that the patriotism undergirding the celebration of our nation’s birth deserves a higher ranking, particularly at this time when so many of us are apparently disillusioned with the direction in which our nation is headed.
There are those who blame America for much of what is bad in the world. On the political left, many fault the USA because of our history of slavery and for continuing challenges with inequality and racism. On the right, traditionally the home of national boosterism, we hear influential figures say that America has become, essentially, decadent.
In surveys I have recently seen, less than 1 American in 5 trusts the federal government. While the numbers are more favorable for state and local government, each of those government entities generates respect from fewer than half of those citizens surveyed.
The tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution. It was on July 2, 1776, that the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence from England and two days later adopted the Declaration of Independence devoted to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
From 1776 to the present day, July 4 has been celebrated as the birthday of our nation with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual backyard family gatherings and neighborhood picnics. As a youngster, I fondly recall some spirited backyard badminton contests with friends of all ages competing.
America is a better ladder
The ordinary person in America lives well when compared to others in the world. A friend originally from India wryly put it this way: “I enjoy living in a country where everyone has food to eat and even the poorest people are overweight!”
There remain large inequalities of income and wealth in America, but the goal of America is upward social mobility and opportunity for all. For the last 242 years, no country has created a better ladder than America for both natives and immigrants to ascend from very modest circumstances. It was Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville who first defined the country’s egalitarianism in his 1830s book “Democracy in America.”
In America, we have established a society in which the lives of a business owner and of the people who work there each share a noble calling.
With all of its shortfalls, the American health system has resulted in many more years of life for most of us, and the means to live more intensely and actively than nearly anywhere else. Many older Americans are incredibly vigorous, with people well into their 70s and 80s pursuing the pleasures of life with enthusiastic zeal. Advances in medicine, agriculture and diet are mainly responsible for the change.
Architect of own destiny powerful idea
For many years, youngsters have learned about their right to being the architect of their own destiny, an incredibly powerful idea that is not common elsewhere in the world.
More than any place on earth, America’s form of freedom separates the spheres of religion and government so that no religion is given official preference; all are free to practice their faith as they wish.
Twice in the 20th century, the United States virtually saved the world — first from the World War II Nazi threat and then the decades long Cold War to contain Communism, which essentially ended with the break up of the Soviet Union in 1989. American foreign policy has helped foster individual freedom while making strong allies of one-time enemies.
Can-do American attitude forms consensus
An important factor that makes America great is the combination of abundant natural resources and an innovative populace who know how to tap into it to develop new goods and services.
There is a certain can-do American attitude that includes optimism and seeing opportunity where many others see only risks. This attitude has lead Americans to bold, inventive breakthroughs.
I believe that our nation is forming consensus on important issues on which the vast majority of us already agree. For example, 9 in 10 Americans place “a safe country” as by far their top priority. Other areas of priority are education; responding to natural disasters, clean air and water, safe food and medicine, and careful management of the immigration system, each measuring over 80 percent public support.
Our nation is far from perfect, and there is lots of room for improvement. There remains in our nation, as elsewhere in the world, much to do to support those who most need it.
On this Independence Day, Americans should take some time to honor our country — not just because it is ours, but also because it is good. American life as it is lived today is the best life that our world has to offer.
Ultimately America is worthy of our love and sacrifice because, more than any other society, it makes possible the good life, and the life that is good.
Chuck Slocum ([email protected]) is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm.
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