It’s the Fourth of July 2017, the 241st birthday of these United States. It is also a time of great division, anger and frustration. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon in America. Indeed, it has been quite common in the annals of our history, and it is probably comforting to think of it that way, because whether it was the Civil War, or Viet Nam or the Watergate Crisis, we have come through them all. It can be argued that we have done so because of a most important American value. Let me explain.
Almost every single American alive today will be able to recount, in one form or another, the great story of thirteen colonies, bravely standing up to the vast power of the British Empire of the 18th Century, and the formation of a new kind of government of the People uniting those colonies into one union that would face civil war, and prevail to grow into a modern super power. They will tell you of the struggles of generations to live up to the promises contained in the Declaration of Independence and its affirmation of the rights of humankind. They will be proud of the freeing of the slave, the granting of equal rights to women, and the investment of national treasure and human effort to free the world from tyranny, explaining that these things are proof that the great democratic experiment is real. They would point to the statue in New York Harbor and her light, lifted high to give hope to the huddled masses. They would be correct in citing these achievements. They are the tangible results of a great country, but they do not adequately capture one of the most important of American values, because it is so subtly a part of us, that we often do not recognize it in ourselves, especially not in trying times.
Yet it is in that subtle and often unrecognized value that we take our strength, especially in trying times. It is in the fact that we have valued, and still value, the idea that no matter how impossible, or impractical, or difficult to hang on to, the Truths upon which the Founding Fathers built are still true, and that they are worth hanging on to despite the cynical cat calls of those around us who do not have the same vision. From the depths of our beings, we believe that this crazy idea called America is worth it, and that, despite our flaws, and they are many, our foundations and our institutions are sound, and they are manned, by and large, by patriots who are citizens first who will strive to do the right thing, no matter how difficult that may be. When we are attacked we fight back and then we forgive and we help to rebuild….sometimes in other parts of the world, and sometimes, among ourselves…but we always come back and we stand up again for the principles in which we still believe. No matter how grave the crisis is, or how rocky the struggles, Americans never stop working to keep the hope upon which this country was founded alive.
That is what America stands for in an imperfect world, and it is a most important American value.