I didn't celebrate America's birthday party with all the fervor I have occasionally in the past. I chose a quiet time at home instead of the usual cookout-and-fireworks extravaganza. But I did give my usual thanks for being so lucky to have been born in a time and place of such valued freedom. Within the bounds of human decency — and then some — I can say anything, do anything, be anything, try anything. So few people in the history of the world have been able to day that. Freedom is the most valuable human commodity, and America has always been its greatest champion. Whatever doubts we have about the shortcomings of this country, we should take that one day just to marvel at its greatness, both real and potential.
Unfortunately, not everybody feels that way. You didn't have to look very far yesterday to find folks in the media eager to lecture us that, damn it, America just isn't up to snuff these days. It's that evil Donald Trump, you know, and his ignorant, bigoted followers. Hell,half the people in this country don' deserve to live on the same planet with the decent people.
At the New York Times, media columnist Jim Rutenberg said the tweet "appeared to promote violence against CNN," the latest in a series of broadsides from the White House against the press.
Rutenberg said Trump's blows on the media cast a shadow on Independence Day.
"You're old enough to know that you can't always have a feel-good birthday," he wrote. "And let's face it: This Fourth of July just isn't going to be one of them."
My favorite may be the article in USA Today lamenting the "new reality" that "confronted by immigrants" on this Independence Day, a president who insists on focusing n "the negative aspects of immigration" and making people in other countries feel they just aren't welcomed:
"Trump's radicalism on immigration is unprecedented in modern times," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a Washington, D.C.-based immigration advocacy group. "There's a historic challenge to our nation's tradition of welcoming refugees and immigrants. It's up to us whether we are going to survive this era and emerge with a stronger sense of inclusive patriotism that makes us proud."
On the nation's birthday, I was supposed to feel bad that people no long feel as free to come here illegally, and on top of that feel guilty because I'm not respecting our history as a nation of immigrants? I don't think so.
Let me be quick here to make the distinction that so few of those border-bashing critics won't, between legal and illegal immigration. We are a nation of immigrants, and we can learn a lot from those who came here after making a choice to seek citizenship in a country they believed in. They appreciate things about America that those of us who were born here take for granted.
Read the story of Sarah Hoyt, a science fiction writer born and raised in Portugal, for whom English was here third language, who writes of "becoming an American," a process she says is ongoing:
Recently while visiting my father-in-law at a nursing home, he asked my son: “I like your tie, but why are you wearing a stars and stripes tie?” And son answered, “I love this country. It’s the one mom chose.” I won’t lie, I teared up a little.
The process of being an American goes on, though. As almost everyone here should be aware, being an American – not just fitting in the culture, and because that’s regional it means I’ll need to learn to talk and walk again if I move across the country again – is an ongoing process, an ongoing fight between liberty and totalitarian impulses which exist in every society and possibly in every human. And it is a struggle to free yourself from the inherited nonsense that has plagued other societies too: ideas of class and inherited rank or ability.
It is our solemn duty, no matter how many of our compatriots fail at it, to live up to our amazing luck in being citizens of the greatest nation on Earth, one founded on the belief that individuals can be self-governing and are the bosses of their own government.
Thank you for admitting me to the privilege. Never forget your luck. Learn to live up to it.
There's that word again: luck. Just plain, dumb luck that we were born here. Let's at least appreciate that, even if we don't always live up to it.