This Independence Day seems especially important to me, because if all goes as plans I won't be spending the next one in this country. I'll be in South Korea, where I imagine the Fourth of July goes relatively unobserved (and if I'm wrong, that has some really disturbing implications). It may be only a year off, but in the context of my thoughts about what it will mean to be absent from the United States for so long, it's taken on some significance for me.
The immediate question is, "what exactly am I celebrating today?" A couple of years ago, I offered some "objective praise" for this country, in the spirit of fun and concern for the complete lack of perspective that people tend to bring toward this holiday.
This year, I don't really feel like praising America. In fact, as much as going abroad is nerve-wracking to one who hasn't done it much, I'm pretty eager to be gone for a while. It's not that I no longer feel this country to be deserving of (objective) praise. I just feel like our problems, on balance, might be larger than our assets.
You see, there's the American Dream. Nobody really knows what it is, but most of us are pretty sure we like it and want it and that it makes our country special. As near as I can define it (and I could easily be wrong), it's economic success matched with personal freedom and a healthy respect and adherence to the rule of law. And then there's the American Reality. As far as can be seen, this consists of a blotted economic record, with outcomes varying by a sinfully wide margin depending on race, class, and gender. The same can be said for personal freedom. As for the rule of law? Well, maybe if you're white. Maybe.
What separates the American Dream from the American Reality? Principally, it's narcissism. It's a reflexive aversion to equality. It's a preference for happy symbolism over hard truth. Call it what you will, it's hurting this country in ways that are both universal and peculiar. The American Reality is that most people just can't live in the country we were all promised.
I count myself easily among the privileged, and I like to think that America really is improving over time, in fits and starts. But there are too many people here who think that improving this country means restricting people's rights, or that protecting us means putting our trust in authority that does not recognize the rule of law. I can't accept that a free and equal society is impossible in a country that claims to want it as much as this one. But what people claim to want, and the implications of their actions, are often completely different things.
On the other hand, I'm very much looking forward to going to the park tonight, to drink and feast and watch the fireworks display. That's what holidays are for, after all. But tomorrow, things will be as they've always been, very probably for worse. Think about it, and do what you can. In the meantime, enjoy some freedom.