It looks like a day of national gratitude and remembrance is no longer possible in America.
Last week on the Fourth of July, my social media feed—which represents a fairly wide swath of Americans—was filled with a very, very small percentage of Fourth of July posts that were both sincere and positive. On one side of the political fence, posts were largely aggressive and vocal about America’s problems, as if this should preclude anyone from celebrating our country on Independence Day and it was instead the duty of Americans to call out her every issue. Multiple friends posted pictures of upside-down or defaced American flags, or long posts denouncing our President. The other side tended to take a safe tone of heavy irony. “Happy Fourth to the #greatestnationonearth” posted one friend, accompanied by this gif.
In a nation beset by political unrest and fiercely polarized politics, even harmless, sincere, good-willed acts of respectful patriotism are now worthy of mockery at best, and at worst are considered extremely offensive and cause for outrage.
The most egregious example of this was the woman who, on the Fourth of July, became an internet sensation, and not in a good way, after she visited and cleaned Donald Trump’s frequently-defaced Hollywood star and posted pictures on Twitter. Her caption, “Nothing but respect for MY president,” was parodied in thousands of jeering Twitter posts that day. On the Fourth, the phrase “nothing but respect for my president” appeared in 406,000 tweets. That’s how laughable we find sincerity.
Yes, Independence Day is just a symbolic celebration. But why has “symbolic” come to mean “unimportant?” The Fourth of July does not just celebrate one event in 1776 that can be reduced to “a day when a group of white men—many of whom owned their fellow human beings—declared they and they alone had rights given to them by God.” It is our national holiday, a day that ought to represent unity, a unity that has endured despite the many issues and tensions that have always existed among our large and diverse population, and always will.
Patriotism does not mean an endorsement of everything that every American has ever done. Patriotism means embracing one’s country as one’s own, not as some pernicious force to be set at a distance and ridiculed or hated. America is the sum of all Americans. As long as we see her as anything other than this we are deluding ourselves, at the expense of our country—that is, of our fellow Americans.
Our nation is very clearly not free from problems, and ignoring these problems does not make them go away. But a sense of decorum and respect on the anniversary of our nation’s independence is not the same as ignoring our problems. Instead, it demonstrates, as it always has, our capacity to set our differences aside and see and celebrate that which unites us. If this past Fourth of July is any indication, Americans are rapidly losing this capacity.
Image: Twitter (@makenna_mg)