I’m never going to enjoy a Toby Keith song about America, or demand that my neighbors "love or leave" this country. It’s unlikely that I will ever refer to an American media outlet as traitorous, or demand that we build a fenced wall between the United States and Mexico. I don’t believe that, this, or any country has been chosen by a higher power to lead the world, and I don’t believe that the United Nations is a global plot to strip the U.S. of its sovereignty. I do, however, love the United States.
I love America for what it aspires to be, and what is has the potential to become. The foundation of what this nation celebrates today, the Declaration of Independence, was more than a statement of revolution; it was a statement that governments exist to secure the rights of their citizens, and not to enrich and empower the few. That aspiration has been a inspiration for countless people, revolutionaries and dreamers, and a model for governments around the world for over 200 years.
I love America for its incredible diversity, for its commitment to the idea that our unmatched military might should be used for good, not dominance, its belief that every man and woman should have the opportunity to achieve his/her dreams, and its incredible optimism. I love America for its sense of community, its belief in civil rights and equality, and its capacity to be united.
And yet, we fall so short of some of those aspirations. Our government, like any human institution, often falls short of the aspirations that guide it, and sometimes even deliberately does wrong. With all of our power and all of our wealth, we sometimes fail to do what is in the best interest of the world, or even our own citizens. As someone who loves his country, I cannot be silent when I believe we are on the wrong course. I cannot acquiesce when the government oversteps its power, or when it ignores its responsibility to the people it serves.
Liberal criticism of our nation’s policies is often mistaken or mischaracterized by the Right as hatred of America, or a desire to leave. Nothing could be further from the truth. We criticize the government because we believe it can be better, do more, infringe less. Blind devotion to one’s country is not patriotism; it is nothing more than subservience that Jefferson would have despised. As James Baldwin once wrote, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
The celebration of our independence isn’t limited to one side of the political spectrum. Patriotism isn’t about whose flag is flown higher or whose lapel pin is shinier; it’s about working together to make our nation what Jefferson and the other founders hoped it could be, an inspiration for the rest of the world:
"The flames kindled on the Fourth of July, 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them."
Have a wonderful Fourth.