Independence Day: Freedom, Citizenship and Looking Ahead

Flag of the United States of America.I like being an American.

There. I’ve said it.

I like living in a country where freedom of speech is part of our heritage.

And where freedom of expression extends even to folks whose ideas aren’t approved by The Establishment’s current iteration.


Freedom of Expression, Even for ‘Them’

C. M. Stieglitz's photo for New York World-Telegram and the Sun: Robert Thompson and Benjamin J. Davis: accused of improper political views. (1949) Via Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I was born during the Truman administration, so my teens and the 1960s overlap almost perfectly.

Back then, denouncing communist plots, rock music and the Catholic Church were all the rage among ‘real Americans’.

Emphasis on “rage”.

Looking back at that part of my country’s history, I can see why they were so upset. Their world was crumbling around them.

Folks my age didn’t think “freedom” meant lockstep conformity to the values and preferences of a post-WWII American subculture.

And even America’s highest court had exhibited “un-American” tendencies.

I’m not happy about the 1949-1958 Smith Act trials of Communists, for several reasons. But something good did come of them.

In 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court said that prosecuting folks for what they do is okay, but prosecuting them for what they believe isn’t.

Time passed. Slogans like “communist menace” and “national security” gave way to “tolerance” and “diversity”.

And folks who are either part of The Establishment’s current iteration, or its zealous supporters, still have conniptions when someone doesn’t agree with them. And says so.

Their responses are less of the “House Un-American Activities Committee” ilk and more of the “cancel culture” sort. And that’s another topic.1

Good Times, Bad Times, and Occasional Flashes of Brilliance

John Trumbull's 'Declaration of Independence.' (1819)
John Trumbull’s “Declaration of Independence.” (1819)

A bunch of formerly-loyal British subjects decided that they’d had enough, and signed “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” on July 4, 1776.

I’m not thrilled about some of what some Americans have done over the last 247 years, and realize that America lacks a spotless record.

But, on the whole, I think we’ve done okay. We’ve even — as individuals, unofficial associations and the occasional government entity or official — had the occasional flashes of brilliance.

Like deciding that having officially-unsanctioned beliefs is not a criminal offense.

As a country, we’ve had ups and downs.

Charles Forbell's 'Club Life in America: the Stockbrokers' Cartoon from Judge Magazine. (November 1929)The 1920s, for many folks, were good times.

For farmers, not so much.

Partly because government actions that looked good during WWI had unintended consequences, partly because the weather hadn’t been ideal.

Then, in 1929, stock market problems got the attention of city folks. And that’s a whole bunch of other topics that I may get to at another time.

But, whether because or despite Federal actions, we survived. By 1939, the Great Depression was over. For most folks, at any rate. And then WWII started.2

But we’re still here. I see that as a good thing.

I also think it’s a good idea to remember that change happens. And that whatever crisis or bonanza is in play at the moment — won’t last forever.

A remarkable number of us survived WWII, post-war boom times, and a breathtaking series of paradigm shifts we call the Sixties. I think we’ll get through today’s smoke from Canadian wildfires and angsty headlines, too.

Another Drought, and Reasonable Hope

Minnesota drought conditions. (June 27, 2023) So far, not as bad as the 2021 drought.
Minnesota drought conditions. (June 27, 2023)

Minnesota drought conditions. (July 13, 2021)This year’s drought isn’t, so far, as bad as the one two years back.

That’s good news.

What’s happening to crops in my part of the world — could be better.

But it could be worse.

Some of the good news is that we learned a lot from the Dust Bowl: including why over-tilling fields is a bad idea. And that’s yet another topic.

I think there’s a reasonable hope that we — and America — will get through today’s drought, smoke and political news. That’s partly because I see America as much more than this country’s federal, state and local governments.

I like being an American in large part because I live in a country with Americans. Most of us are folks who deliberately moved here, their children, or their descendants. I’m several generations in from the immigrant situation, and I’m wandering off-topic again.

Being a Good Citizen Still Matters

Nighttime photo of the 1939 World's Fair, New York City. (September 15, 1939.) Library of Congress / New York Public Archives, via, used w/o permission
“Dawn of a New Day” — “the world of tomorrow”. The 1939-1940 World’s Fair.

America, and the world, has changed a great deal over the last century. Much of that change has happened since my youth.

Some changes have been for the better, some haven’t. Responsibilities that come with being a citizen? Those haven’t changed.

Since I’m a Catholic, contributing to the good of society and taking part in public life isn’t an option: it’s a responsibility. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1915, 2239)

The details, what I do and how I do it, would vary with time and place.

I live in 21st century America, I’ve got certain abilities and limitations: so, among other things, I write something for this blog and post it each Saturday.

Different cultures provide and allow different kinds of participation. That’s okay. (Catechism, 1915)

I talked about freedom of expression earlier. That’s important.

So is religious freedom: being allowed to believe and act as if those beliefs matter.

As a Catholic, I must support religious freedom — for everybody. (Catechism, 2104-2109)

There’s more to being Catholic than being a good citizen. But it’s important. And it’s part of acting as if what I believe matters.

The ‘citizenship’ part of my faith boils down to loving God and my neighbor, and seeing everyone as my neighbor. That’s everyone. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

Justice, Charity, Respect: They’re Worth Trying

Brian H. Gill's photo: Sauk Centre's Sinclair Lewis Days parade. (July 20, 2013)I’m just some guy living in central Minnesota, so changing the course of world history isn’t a reasonable goal.

But I must do what I can: working toward a greater degree of justice and charity, and respect for “the transcendent dignity of man,” in America. And in the world. (Catechism, 1928-1942, 2419-2442)

That’s why I’ll occasionally talk about where we’ve been, what’s happening, and where we’re going. And suggest that wanting and giving respect make sense.

We won’t solve our problems overnight. Humanity has an enormous backlog of issues.

But I am sure that we can make our tomorrow something better than our today: and that we must try.

I’ve talked about this before:

1 Freedom of expression, Yates v. United States:

2 Air quality and the Dust Bowl:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to Independence Day: Freedom, Citizenship and Looking Ahead

  1. From time to time, I like to imagine future generations making jokes out of me and my generation with old and improved ideas like…”New and improved? More like old and improved!” I do remember the old and new wineskin stuff from the Bible, but the New Testament wouldn’t be around without the Old, yeah?

    • Yeah! And I like your “old and improved” phrase.
      Then there’s what Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill….”
      I suspect it’s a matter of our understanding what the law and the prophets have been saying. And that – is another topic. 😉

Thanks for taking time to comment!