Happy Birthday: Grand Old Lady

This is the day where the whole point of the country comes home to roost. Yeah, a lot of people look at the Fourth of July as time off, a summer date to do something fun and maybe get together with family or friends or both. But Independence Day is America’s Birthday and  that’s an occasion worth some celebration. There is a lot of great tradition in our country, much of it as a result of the diversity that combined to populate and defend her. Once called the Great Melting Pot, the US had the advantage of being a mixed breed, and just like with dogs, the more mixed the breed, the smarter and more resilient it is.

Even as a kid, before I understood much, I recognized something special and good in the way that everyone had a common goal, and while the methods used to achieve those goals might be different, there was enough interested in the success of the country that compromise prevailed and the nation made its way through a difficult puberty, perhaps reaching its first adult step at the end of the Civil War. It was at that point that the nation really began to work as a collective.

That’s not to say that everything was sweetness and light; we had issues to overcome, some as basic as fully embracing the diversity that made us so strong. Growing pains that had me, in the uniform of the 82nd Airborne Division, found myself patrolling the streets of the Nation’s Capital following the killing of Martin Luther King. That’s generally the period in which I became engaged with my country, its politics and its issues. I was just back from Vietnam and in dismay over the violence of Kent State, the riots that seemed to pop up all over, and the divide between those in favor and those against the war. But in spite of the issues, we didn’t collapse nor did we lose the drive to work together, making the 1960s and 70s a time of tremendous growth and improvement.

As I look around myself at this point, seeing the partisan political bickering and posturing that seems to do more harm than good, I still have a lot of faith that things will improve even more. We may have to pay a price for that improvement, just as we did some thirty years or so ago. I say that fully aware that we are no longer rated number one in education, production, health and employment. I say that because we have faced difficult times in the past and managed to put aside our differences, rely on our diversity, and pull success from the jaws of defeat. I believe that the nation is much like a pendulum, swinging first one way and then another as it attempts to find a balance, find a stability as time goes by. For a while things tend to favor conservative thought only to swing toward more liberal ideals; back and forth, back and forth, each oscillation taking us forward in time and keeping us abreast of ourselves.

I hear on the news that the US is more divided now that it has ever been. While I do see a divide, it’s a different sort than I experienced in the past or read about in history. It seems that our politics is experiencing a time in which the polar ideals of the primary parties has embraced the more radical aspects of those ideals. Conservatives appear more radically conservative and liberals appear to be more liberal –the end result creating, at times, an impasse. Many of us, our political views remaining static, have found ourselves branded as moderates, as though that’s a badge to be ashamed of. But it’s only because of the radical partisanship has changed, swinging toward more extremist views of the respective parties. I started out a Republican, and without changing my views or sense of the best approach, have ended up being a Democrat in the eyes of my party. My position once considered a moderate conservative, is now viewed as liberal due to the extreme leanings of the conservatives in the limelight.

But I have the expectation that life is not the doom-filled catastrophe the media seems to be portraying our times as. I think we have some difficult moments ahead, and I think that things will get worse before they get better. But then again, I’m a part of the mainstream America, not the radical arm wavers the media focuses on so myopically. Over time, I think our diversity is going to once again pay dividends and allow America to reach another time of relative prosperity. Perhaps not in the leaps and bounds we seemed to enjoy between the Second World War and now, but a time in which our economy regains some strength and we learn again the lesson that United We Stand, Divided We Fall. I believe that this concept is almost genetically a part of our nation, and that we will again find that compromise and sharing common goals is in everyone’s self interest.

I see that it’s difficult to be concerned with one’s neighbor at the moment. The pressures to make our own ends meet consumes the lion’s share of our energies, but that we will get back to the understanding that when the energy is invested in the mainstream rather than in specific components of our society, that we will regain a lot of the opportunity that gave us our prior great moments in history. I say that because of the conversations I have with friends and acquaintances all over. Talking to them offers a different, and more accurate, I think, perspective on the real attitudes that pervade our country. The ideas of equality and honesty are not dead by any means, and they will help us again as they have in the past.

As a nation we do face a lot of adversity. We will have to be a bit more reserved, a bit more willing to make efforts and a lot more honesty in how we think of ourselves. But in all cases past, we have awakened in time to sway the circumstances to favor the nation at large. Not just a part of it as it appears to do now. That’s why today, Independence Day is so important. We need to celebrate this day as our nation’s birthday, and remember which attitudes and perspectives make us strong and enviable. To take the same kind of pride we do as we celebrate the birthdays of our children where we see the flaws but love them all the more.

So Happy Birthday, America, and my best to the family –you, me and everybody.