The Fourth of July, 2019

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Happy Independence Day.

It’s a difficult one, innit? Probably easier for those that reject the whole idea of patriotism, of a kind of unreasonable fondness and pride for one’s nation, just because it happens to be the nation one is part of. But for me, with my view of nation-as-family, my admiration for the aspirational nature of our country, my passion for participatory self-government along Madisonian lines, my Whitman, my Party, my skeptically protective attitude toward inherited institutions, symbols, values and rituals, my hot dogs, my flag, my baseball, my illegal-immigrant grandparents looking for the goldine medina, for me, it’s a difficult year.

Not just because we are, as a nation, engaging in quite public crimes against humanity with concentration camps on the border and the vicious attacks on illegally imprisoned refugees. I mean, yes, mostly because of that, in a way, but in truth every Fourth of July, like every day of every month, our nation engages in a variety of despicable activities. America is aspirational, always—and imperfect even in our aspirations. I do think that our border policies are particularly troubling, but there have been Independence Days that have seen race-based oppression even worse, even on that border. For me, celebrating the Fourth of July does not require reconciling our aspirations and our actual actions; it requires being aware that they are irreconcilable, and celebrating the Good Stuff anyway.

No, it’s extra difficult this year because I don’t see a path from here to a country that is closer to my aspirations for it. What I think were our national aspirations. I’m not despairing—just because I don’t see a path doesn’t mean there isn’t one—but neither am I hopeful. Frankly, I’m terrified. And that’s not how I like to spend my Fourth of July.

I want to end this note by turning it around, doing the thing where I acknowledge the truth that things are always getting better and worse simultaneously, that there is much to celebrate about our nation even in these dark times. Or with a call to action, that we should do this and that to create the path I can’t see. Not today. Instead, I’m just going to end with that last bit: I’m terrified, and that’s not how I like to spend my Fourth of July.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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