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A Message for the Fourth (Reprise)

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I’m probably never going to enjoy an a capella version of “Proud to be an American,” nor 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 using bike lanes as part of 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 an 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. As James Baldwin 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.”

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, and infringe less. Blind devotion to one’s country is not patriotism; it is nothing more than subservience that Jefferson would have despised.

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 energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it, and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

Have a wonderful Fourth.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

3 Comments

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  • Thanks, Don. I can’t imagine this being said any better.

    I would add to your reasons, for me and for my family, that this country took us in as we fled from war. It invited our citizenship and gave us the opportunity to grow as part of its democracy, to be proud citizens and to strive to do our part to support and enhance the continual efforts to create and then perpetuate equality and justice. It is why my dad repeatedly tried to enlist in the army during WW2; he said he owed it to the nation which gave us a home. (He was rejected several times for being too old, then drafted at 38 when they changed the law.) It is no doubt why I gravitated toward work to improve the lot of other persecuted people, and to put an end to war.

    The current debate over accepting refugees is one that, for this refugee, rings a loud bell.

    Dan Lourie Bozeman

  • On July 4th, we celebrate our unity as a people. We throw politics out and stand together and United for liberty and justice for all. (Those who can’t abide by that, with all due respect, get the hell out. There are plenty of tempest tossed, teeming masses yearning to breathe free the very air you’re hoarding with your horrible hate). May we all enjoy the Independence of this day – freedom from hate, bigotry and discrimation.

  • Ran into a guy with an NRA hat on the other day. We got to talking about guns, etc. and the country in general. ‘Course, he had to mention that in spite of all our problems, this was still the “best country in the world.”.

    Well, I kinda/sorta agreed, except that I told him there actually ARE parts of this country that are the best country in the world, like Montana for example. But I then added that most of the country is a giant crap hole in which I could never live. And that’s the truth. Before I’d live in a giant crap hole, I’d take many other places in the world first.

    They are very few places in this country that I find livable according to my needs. Of course, I’m very, very provincial. I have never been east of the Montana line and have not desire to go see what’s over that way. But I have been to most of the major cities in the West, and Montana is about it for me.

    I think for a lot of us old guys who grew up in the west this is the case. The country has just changed too damn much for us to interesting any more. I guess that I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!, the old west of my youth. It really was a great country back then. Now, not so much.

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