It is an interesting time to reflect on America’s legacy. We are the most powerful country in the world. We have the largest accumulation of wealth. We are looked to as a leader in the world specifically in regards to diversity and humanity…
… and we also are bitterly divided. Our national identity is torn asunder with hostile divisions between different groups. Rich versus poor. White versus… well, everyone. Conservative versus progressive. Our image to the world is divided between those who consider us allies and those who consider us enemies. Though, now many of our allies are concerned with us.
So what are we celebrating?
This is not a proud moment to be an American… or is it?
I try to explain to people who come on my tour that we have to educate ourselves about our past. We need to stop exalting me, Jefferson, Washington, etc. as demi-gods. We were men. We made mistakes. Our constitution was not perfect. It’s quite ambiguous, actually. We left a lot of the administration of government up to those chosen by the people run it. It was not written in stone. I had a hope that our government would evolve as our society evolved (evolve = progress).
Our history is littered with examples of the conflicts and issues stemming from this societal evolution. And forgive me if “conflicts” feels like a light term. Too often, our “conflicts” mean horrible atrocities between peoples. Unfortunately, that is the nature of “people”. Not all, but enough.
In an effort to catch myself up on 240 years of American history, I am reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln (#good_dude). For his first 4th of July, he was trying to hold onto a collection of states who were trying to leave the Union while also dealing with those who already turned away from us. Several years later, on the same day, he’s still learning about the number of casualties mounting up at the Battle of Gettsyburg. HE saw just how divided we could become over slavery, in itself one of the most atrocious institutions in human history.
THAT was a bad time. While that example shouldn’t change your emotions, it should provide you some context to compare to our current state of disunity. We need to learn about and analyze our context. If we learn from past mistakes, we can ensure that the same issues do NOT repeat… because history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.
So why can we still be proud? Because our country, despite its many problems, was founded with the hopes that society will continue to improve and build off of our past conflicts and problems. It was founded on an IDEA.
We haven’t reached the goal of a society that treats all of its people equally and fairly. Not yet.
But it is that ideal that I will continue to work and strive for. That is the banner that I raise when I look at the flag and celebrate our country’s birth. It’s not a celebration of accomplishment.
It’s a celebration of HOPE.