The Fourth of July, Independence Day, the anniversary of our nationhood, is a good time to reflect on the current state of American aspirations and institutions in relationship to our founding principles and our core values. Our national character is built by the historical events that become our mythology, shape our psychology, are eulogized by our poets and writers and become our national icons. It comes from the sober interplay between our idealism and self-image, and how we deal with the challenges of our world.
In the daily caricature of a political cartoonist or in the spin of media pundits the national psyche is laid bare in the transient "here and now." Mythology in this candid snapshot takes on the exaggerated elements of distorted public figures, grotesque or ridiculous national symbols, and stylized contrasts. This daily self-examination often pits the monstrosity of current events against the blasé acceptance of malfunctioning credos and cosmetically applied self interest at worst, or wishful thinking and national pride at best. These brazen views may cause feelings of smugness, depression, cynicism, apathy or simply a moment of "I told you so" comic relief.
However, we are citizens of this nation for the long haul, like a good marriage, for better or worse. We can celebrate our anniversary by remembering who and what we fell in love with and see if our partner, the government, is upholding its side of the commitment in spite of certain lapses. In the Declaration of Independence the vows were taken, then consummated in the revolution against a repressive colonial power. It guaranteed to all people "created equal" the "inalienable rights" of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These rights override all legalistic interpretations which our laws and institutions are, after all, supposed to be guaranteeing. All that the United States has done after that declaration supposedly has been for the purpose of making those ideals a reality.
That defining American document was the flower of the aspirations of an intelligent, industrious, faithful and oppressed population of immigrants. America has always been the land of promise for such people whose suffering was made worse because they knew there was a better life to be had. Currently those suffering Americans of whom millions are children have no land of promise for refuge now. Many are basically hungry. Another huge population is homeless. Many elders are destitute outcasts. Many new Americans with skills, dreams and creativity feel unwelcome.
We are now becoming a nation of colonizers and colonized. Too many are seeing on a daily basis an unprecedented erosion of their quality of life made palatable only by the idealism innate in the American psyche. We are all "heroes," sacrificing to protect the "American way of life." Even being a consumer is an act of patriotism for the citizen-soldier-consumer rushing to the mall with flag flying. Here, reality and myth meet political cartoon.
Our leaders seem shocked that some of us are not grateful to give up our rights, dignity and liberties for the sake of "security." They don't understand that many of us still believe in the America of equality, with liberty, justice and opportunity for all as our sacred documents promise. The pursuit of happiness for those making policy has become a badge of shame for our nation that is viewed by much of the rest of the world as a spoiled, reckless, deceptive adolescent. With no mandate from the people by whom and for whom government is supposed to exist, the ruling politicians and their appointees nevertheless even stoop to make-believe and fear-mongering to woo a wishful, trusting public in order to consolidate their power.
this anniversary of American Independence we need to reevaluate the
current behavior of our leaders to see if they are being faithful to
the core values upon which the nation was founded. Neither survival
nor power are worthy if not achieved with integrity or conformity to
the expectations and higher human goals of a modern and civilized state.
Our history has been one of a work in progress towards the ideals set
forth by our founders in the Declaration of Independence. We have had
the courage and honesty in the past to evaluate our behavior in terms
of our ideals. If the American character has any substance it is the
willingness to right wrongs committed by ourselves and our leaders.
At present people need to declare independence psychologically from
self-congratulatory cheer leaders which only see virtue in the home
team. The core values of America have timeless and universal utility
as guidelines for our future behavior if we try to become the best example
of our principles through our actions as a nation and demand as much
of our elected officials.
© 2003 Richard Sidy