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July 4th: Loving Our Country and Wanting to Improve It

July 4th has always been a complex holiday for me.

I’ve always enjoyed spending time with the community, having some fun, watching fireworks. I don’t even mind the monster trucks or the other aspects of excess. I wonder how sustainable such a holiday is, but whatever.

Yet I also begin to get very uncomfortable at the extreme celebrations of jingoism and militaristic violence. I also find whitewashing (virtually literally) the past has some very uncomfortable racist, sexist and colonialist implications.

Either the past matters or it doesn’t. I’ve seen far too many people reject the idea that slavery should matter or Native American genocide should matter, then wrap themselves in the deeds of Founders they not only didn’t know but also may have found many of their opinions abhorrent or irrational.

Today’s a good time to remember that Thomas Jefferson warned about “moneyed incorporations” and banks as being threats to democracy. Or that Benjamin Franklin was a deist who said, “As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity”. (To Franklin I would have said: Buddhism, fuck yeah).

I often call America the first anarchist nation. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but this country really was born on the intellectual, philosophical, and political rejection of hierarchy and dominance. Yes, the Founders were flawed and ended up creating a vision with slavery, dominance of women, slaughter of Natives, etc. But that core idea was wonderful.

So today, I’m not going to celebrate the politics.

What I will celebrate is the hope.

I will celebrate the hope that led a bunch of farmers, merchants, and very poor people to take arms against one of the most powerful militaries in the world and face it down with courage and tenacity. (And the help of the French, our brothers and sisters of liberty who we have unfortunately gotten into a bit of a hissy fit with).

I have been told by foreigners that only Americans would have the conceit to think that they can fix the world.

Well, fuck yeah. Damn straight I do. I know that as a white American heterosexual male I have been born to immense privilege. I also know that that privilege has given me a vision of what a better world can be like, and a desire to share it. That’s a bodhisattva vow, and I’m not apologizing for it.

I am an arrogant, audacious, hopeful American. That doesn’t make me better than anyone else. It doesn’t make my country better than anyone else’s. But it does make it special, and awesome. Just like we should love ourselves for our unique traits and love others for theirs, so too should we embrace what is great about our country while working on a trajectory of improvement for that which is flawed.

Then tomorrow, when we’re coming off of our high of beer and brats, ribs and rallies, we should face some of the bad and strive to improve it.

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