With chaos raging in America’s most populous cities, it may feel counterintuitive to celebrate the 4th of July. But the attempts at destruction from which our nation is suffering is precisely why we should be honoring Independence Day more gratefully and fervently than ever.
There’s one thing on which all Americans can agree: Our country, like all countries, is imperfect. From slavery, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow, questionable foreign policy, and abortion, it’s clear that America has gotten things grievously wrong at times — even at the cost to human life.
What many of us cannot seem to agree on is whether or not, because of the injustices America has perpetuated, she is still worthy of our celebration. Moreover, is she really the “City on a Hill,” the exceptional beacon of liberty, that she has been historically described as?
It’s the question that divides us. A 2019 Gallup poll found that only 22% of Democrats are “extremely proud” to be an American, compared to 76% of Republicans. A Pew Research study shows that only 12% of 18-29-year-olds believe the United States is the best country in the world, compared to 44% of Americans aged 65+.
If you ask a college professor at an elite university whether America is exceptional, their answer will probably be no. America, many academics assert, is an inherently evil, irrevocably failed country built upon violent imperialism and white supremacy. A student of such a professor may even go so far as to say that the United States is the primary source of all modern international discord.
But is that really true? Could the country that welcomes the most immigrants, has historically harbored the most refugees and asylum seekers, is the most generous, adopts the most orphans, provides the most foreign aid to countries in need than any other nation on Earth, and twice helped save the world from tyranny really be as immoral as its critics claim?
The simple answer is: no. Yes, the American experiment, like all experiments, was at first tried imperfectly. But the revolutionary ideals upon which we were founded — that all men were created equal and were endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights — were good, and they still are.
Despite what leftist revolutionaries assert, our failures haven’t occurred because of our founding, but in spite of it. When we ignore our foundational values, we allow injustice. But when we abide by them — that’s when the magnificent occurs.
That’s when men give their lives to end slavery. That’s when emancipation happens. That’s when we help save the world from Nazis and fascism. That’s when we help topple the walls of communism. That’s when the end of Jim Crow and desegregation happens. That’s when a country moves from segregated schools to black Americans serving as justices on the Supreme Court, as Cabinet members, and as congresspeople, and a black man winning a presidential election by a landslide two times in a little over 50 years.
It is in moving toward America’s good, timeless ideals that we have declared victories that have changed the world for the better. While virtually every other society in human history is riddled with a similar muddy past — bloody conquests, slavery, discrimination (all of which still exist to this day in much of the non-Western world) — no country has righted their wrongs or redeemed their past as quickly or as valiantly as we have.
This isn’t to minimize the gravity of our moral failures. It is to say that history is complicated, and its participants even more so, but the unique light that shines through the complexities of America’s fallible heroes and fragmented past is our relentless love for liberty, which has done more good for mankind than any earthly force in history.
There is, and always will be, progress to be made. As scholar John McWhorter writes, America is an ongoing rehearsal, and the more we rehearse, the better we get. Therefore it’s not a revolution that we need, but remembrance. Americans need to re-familiarize ourselves with the principles that have set our young nation apart for the entirety of our existence, and, perhaps even more importantly, teach them to our children.
In many ways, the madness we’re seeing in the streets is the tragic consequence of a failure of both parenting and education. Let this tenuous moment in our country’s history wake parents up to the urgent reality that we cannot trust institutions to teach our children morality, humility, kindness and appreciation for American liberty.
As patriot and President Ronald Reagan famously stated in his 1967 inaugural address as California’s governor: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”
May we have strength and wisdom to keep fighting for the values we hold dear, and may God bless America.