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.