ourth of July is always a weird day for me. I did not grow up in a military family but I grew up in a military and government town during the 70s and 80s. Patriotism was everywhere. My family was patriotic without being superpatriotic. However, as I got older and saw more of the world I came to understand the meaning of patriotism in that special way that blacks have to come to terms with in America. I learned my lessons about patriotism from my father, a man who fought in WWII, was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star and when he came home, was not able to cast a vote until Voting Rights Act of 1964 passed. At some point during my military service, which was entirely in peacetime, I began to understand what it meant to love America. It was something much deeper and more profound than the ?America, love it or leave it? jingoism that so often passes for patriotism.
In my mind, there are three things I love about America; the People, the Constitution and the Land. We are a People of no ethnicity, no race, no religion. Barack Obama is as American a name as John Brown. I with my brown skin and dreadlocks look as much an American as my partner with her red hair and Irish complexion. We are a People not because of where we were born. Madeline Albright is as American as Bill Clinton. We are a People because we subscribe to an Idea. That Idea, really a suite of memes, is codified in our Constitution and, just as importantly, the myths we have about that document and about the Founding Generation. It involves freedom of speech, religion and conscience. These require a certain level of tolerance be developed, something America has not always had a shining track record on. Yet, organically, stumbling along and getting it really wrong sometimes, we seem to move forward. We are the optimistic teenagers of the world. We truly believe that the world can be made a better place and for the most part we want to do things so that it becomes one. We behave, when we decide to, as if the word ?impossible? were nothing more than synonym for ?this will be challenging?.
The Constitution is that which we should all be most proud of. Flawed as it is, it leaves open the possibility of changing it. It?s genius, though, is that it lays out a broad outline of what our government can and cannot do. It hamstrings the would-be tyrant. Yet, it can only do that effectively if we the People do our job and this creates a tension (or should) between the citizen and her country. I must trust, at some level, that people of goodwill and conscience who understand their Constitutional role and limitations run my government. I must, at the same time, be watchful for signs that they are breaching that trust and behaving in a manner beyond what their mandate is. This tension must be there for we are the ultimate firewall of our democratic republic. Ultimately, we elect these people. In the final analysis, we are the ones who send politicians to do our bidding and I believe that the founders were relying on the American people to be active citizens informed about their nation and its policies.
Then there is the land. I?ve been on numerous cross-country road trips, mostly when I was a child and teenager and it gave me a sense of what an amazingly beautiful place America is. I?ve spent significant time on the West Coast and the Deep South, each having their own unique beauties. Anywhere you are in America, you can find someplace relatively close that will stop you in your tracks in awe, if you are at all amenable to awe. Watching the sun disappear into the Pacific Ocean from Ocean Beach in San Francisco, or watching it break over Mount Hood is a treat and a treasure. I recently drove from Portland to Utah and back to meet my partner?s family. I hadn?t been through Idaho in over 20 years and had never been through northern Utah. There were stretches of I-84 that, if not for the road, there would be nothing but beautiful desolation. Scrub and dirt set against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains.. I am not saying that only in America can you get sights such as those. There are other places with sights as magnificent as those here. But they are not this land.
America is lovable for what her people strive to be, what they try to make the government be with the Constitution as their guide and the land that sustains them in their endeavor. I hope that in this discussion that we are having nationally, we can begin to truly grasp that one form of love of America is that which you would have with a long and intimate friend, where you see their flaws, call them out on those flaws when they are being destructive to self or others and love them all the more for the struggle to get beyond those flaws. That?s how I love America.
posted 4 years, 10 months ago
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