The Fourth of July is Independence Day for the United States.
It’s also the anniversary of Alice in Wonderland’s inspiration and Pulcheria’s first day as regent. Folks could celebrate Earth’s aphelion today. We’ll be getting nearer our sun until early January.
I don’t know how many folks mark the date as Pactum Sicardi Day or remember it as the Lockheed Vega’s maiden flight day.
The Fourth of July was Independence Day for the Philippines until 1962, when it became Philippine Republic Day. The archipelago’s Independence Day is now June 12.1
I’m an American, so I’m mostly aware of July Fourth as my country’s Independence Day.
Patriotism Can be Cheesy
Nothing says America! quite like the majestic figures of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. Carved from 700 pounds of cheddar cheese. Set among snack crackers. With a cheese flag.
Maybe there’s something that says it better.
But there’s nothing like it.
“…’I didn’t say there was nothing better,’ the King replied. ‘I said there was nothing like it.’ Which Alice did not venture to deny….”
(“Through the Looking-Glass,” Lewis Carroll (1872) via gutenberg.org)
I like living in America: land of the free, home of the Uncle Sam Flag Coolers, Patriotic Malibu Sunglasses, LED Light-Up Patriotic USA Hats, and — while they last— cheese sculptures.2
I like just-for-fun kitsch. Or I could let it upset me: protesting plastic proliferation, harrumphing over taking Old Glory’s image in vain, or deploring the sinful waste of food. But I won’t.
Wasted food complaints may be non-starters. At least some of the patriotic cheese sculptures were returned to Wisconsin, cut into manageable chunks and given to food pantries. And that’s another topic.
I like being an American. On the whole.
If nothing else, it’s nice to live in a country that folks are trying to enter; not escape.
Election years strain my affection for our form of government. But it’ll do.
“…it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time….”
(Parliament Bill, Mr. Churchill (Woodford) (November 11, 1947) Hansard text)
Not that America is a democracy, quite. I’ve seen it called a constitutional federal republic with democratic traditions. That’s small “d.”
I strongly suspect my country has held together for 243 years in part because we’re a patchwork of local, regional, state and territorial governments linked by a federal authority.
Getting a government’s job done isn’t easy, even when we’re all cooperating.
If the job makes sense, that’s bad news.
If it doesn’t, the system can give us time to correct whatever went wrong at the leadership levels.
We’ve only had one major internal war, and are fixing the mess it left. Most nations, if they last long enough, likely go through rough patches: like England’s Anarchy and Interregnum. I like to think we learn something each time. Some of us.
I also figure America has endured because there’s more to us than our governments.
Happily, our voluntary associations have been free to get jobs done. For the most part.3
Words and Ideals
Maybe I’d be more comfortable with words like “patriot” and “patriotism” if I hadn’t grown up in the Sixties.
McCarthyism’s heyday was over. Some Americans wondered if unwavering faith in HUAC’s wisdom was prudent.
Kids were growing up in a world with tech and prosperity their parents hadn’t known. Disconnects between slogans and action, ideals and attitudes, were becoming obvious.
“…If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer?…”
(“Who Will Answer?” Ed Ames (1967))
“…Go ahead and hate your neighbour
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven
You can justify it in the end….”
(“One Tin Soldier” Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter (1969))
“…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace….”
(“Imagine,” John Lennon (1971))
“The Establishment,” folks who enjoyed prestige and influence, saw what has happening. They didn’t like it.
Some, not all, apparently decided that since what they’d been doing didn’t work — they should do it more forcefully. That didn’t work either. Not the way they intended.
Maybe stalwart defenders of their status quo believed they were the last true patriots.
Calling devotion to their opinions “patriotism” helped me associate the word with nativism, hubris, and anger.
I now recognize distinctions between patriotism, nationalism and jingoism.4 I’ve also learned to appreciate the value and risks of using labels.
Time passed. The upper crust of today’s Establishment are around my age. Many probably shared my youthful conviction that we can do better. Maybe they still think so.
The trick, then and now, isn’t just thinking we can do better. It’s seeing what will work. And doing it.
The world keeps changing.
Some of what’s happened since the Sixties is an improvement. Some, in my view, isn’t.
That’s frustrating for folks in the Establishment, and for those of us who are affected by their actions.
Today’s Establishment wouldn’t, most likely, notice that they’re reacting pretty much as their predecessors did.
The details are different, but I see the same pattern: emphasis shifting from goals to fears, slogans used more as shibboleths than rallying cries.
Words like “tolerance” may be following “patriotism” into dead storage. And “freedom” still means “free to agree with me” in some circles.
I don’t like today’s political sound and fury. I certainly don’t think more of the same is a good idea. And I remember our past too well to want a rerun.
But I think hope makes sense.
Change is happening. This can be a good thing.
Whether or not I’m a patriot may depend on who’s talking. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says a patriot is someone “who loves and supports his or her country.”5
Assuming that love of country stops well short of idolatry, and that support is the sort that makes sense, I’m a patriot.
It’s not an option. Not if I take being a Catholic seriously.
Living as if my faith matters boils down acting as if loving God and my neighbors matters. And seeing everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:43–44, 7:12, 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31; 10:25–27, 29–37; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789)
Acting like love matters is easier when my reason and emotions are in sync. But easy or hard, using my brain is a good idea. (Catechism, 1777–1782)
As a Catholic, I’m obliged to do what’s possible in public life: recognizing humanity’s solidarity, and respecting authority. Within reason. (Catechism, 1778, 1915, 1897–1917, 1939–1942, 2199, 2238–2243)
Seeing my country’s system as the worst one possible, except for all others, is okay. Thinking that everyone should be Americans, or run their countries like ours, not so much.
There isn’t one ‘correct’ form of government. Different cultures and eras have different needs, and that’s okay. (Catechism, 1915, 1957–1958)
I think my country has much to offer the world. I’d rather live here than anywhere else. If that’s loving my country, then I love America.
I’d prefer living in a world where everyone could feel that way about their homeland. Not because it’s like America, but because it’s a unique moment in the life of a land and people.
America and Hair
Again, I like living in America. I think it’s a good place to live. I also think we can do better.
Even if I could drag my country back to an earlier time, I wouldn’t. The Sixties happened in part because so many folks had gotten fed up with the status quo. We changed because what we had wasn’t working.
Yesteryear won’t come back. Today needs improvement. That leaves one direction: forward.
Maybe daydreaming of ‘good old days’ that haven’t happened yet is nothing more than an occasionally-pleasant pastime.
But I think there’s some value in having a “patriot dream.”
“…O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!…”
(“America the Beautiful,” Katharine Lee Bates, 1911 version, via Wikipedia)
A century later, our cities ‐ alabaster and otherwise ‐ aren’t “undimmed by human tears.” But we’re moving in that direction.
We’re learning to accept non-English, non-Protestant Americans.
It’s a lesson we re-learn periodically.
Maybe it’ll get easier, as more Americans have ‘foreign’ names like O’Toole and Einstein, Ichihashi and Karmarkar, Liukin and Chandrasekhar, Di Vincenzo and Pei.
“Hair,” the Sixties musical, wasn’t patriotic. Not in the Fabulous Fifties sense.
On the other hand, I think one of its songs expressed a patriot dream of sorts.
“…Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions….”
(“Aquarius,” “Hair” (1967))
A half-century later, sympathy and trust aren’t abounding. But wanting harmony and understanding still makes sense.
We had soreheads in my youth. We still do.
Hot-button topics and slogans have changed, a little.
One thing that has changed is how easily folks can share ideas.
I figure that’s behind some of today’s angst. It’s gotten increasingly hard to ignore what ‘the other guy’ thinks. Or ensure that the public only sees what ‘the right sort’ think we should. And that’s yet another topic.
Or maybe not so much. The Internet, printing press, or whatever tech we use, won’t make everyone live in harmony. Or act badly. They’re tools. We can use them to shout insults or share ideas. It’s a choice each of us makes.
I don’t expect cities “undimmed by human tears” a century from now.
I’d be astounded if most of humanity’s many problems have been solved in the next millennium. Or ten millennia. We’re dealing with an enormous backlog of unresolved issues.
Healing wounds accumulated over uncounted ages is beyond me.
But I can suggest that justice and charity, and respecting humanity’s “transcendent dignity,” are good ideas. For the world, for America, and for each of us. The process starts in me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 1886–1889, 1928–1942, 2419–2442)
Maybe, if enough of us start acting as if love matters, we can build a better America.
And a better world.
Imagining alabaster cities abounding in harmony and understanding is easy.
Cobbling together close approximations of them won’t be.
But maybe, if enough of us work together, we can lay foundations for a “…civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”6
I think we can. I am certain that we must try.
- Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (1835, 1840) trans. Henry Reeve (gutenberg.org)
- Merriam-Webster dictionary
- Merriam-Webster dictionary
6 A civilization of love: