Perhaps this is truly our greatest holiday of all.
For Americans, the Fourth of July is a time to celebrate individual freedom, and to honor the patriots who came before us and liberated us from tyranny while creating a nation by the people, for the people. It is a day without religious affiliation, so it is inclusive to all. And, as an added bonus, it is not linked with the genocide of indigenous people who lived here before us.
It is a day filled with hot dogs and apple pie and explosives bursting in the air. It is for crazy patriotic hats, strangers singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in unison and many sentences that begin with, “Yeah, this country is pretty screwed up, but...”
In short, it is as “American” as it gets.
We are a nation of excess, and though that might sound like a negative, it’s more of an endearing observation. Our publisher, Susan Lyons, likes to say, “Go big or go home” around the office, and really there’s no more apt way to describe how we do things.
You see, we are dreamers by nature. The young couple that starts their own corner store dreams of one day seeing their hard work flourish into a network of locations that are active in every corner of the world. Our musicians, actors and athletes are treated as if they are somehow better than the rest of us because, well, they achieved what many of us aspire to — they have been collectively noticed.
We are not wallflowers as a people. Americans achieve much in this world because Americans demand to be noticed, and will work harder and longer than is probably considered healthy because we know there are rewards at the end. No, not everybody will reach the heights they want to, but some will. And that’s more than you can say for many other parts of the world.
We are still a nation that offers hope. There is hope for that inner-city youth who might be trapped in a bad family and surrounded by negative influences. A combination of hard work, natural abilities and a little good luck can push that individual to great heights if all goes well, and that could very well improve the lot of that person’s family for generations to come.
As an Irish-American I have often been told stories of how poorly the Irish were treated when they first came to this country. The “Irish need not apply” signs from long ago have been pushed in my face since childhood, and I have read about how the Irish were treated by both sides during the Civil War. “Inhumanely” would be a pretty accurate description.
But some of those settlers pushed forward with their lives through perseverence and determination, and while those individuals might not have ascended to great heights themselves, their kids were given some better opportunities. Some went to college and became doctors and lawyers, and their kids got even more chances, and eventually the Irish people were pretty-well assimilated into American society.
Yes, we are still a land of opportunity, even if that opportunity might not be exactly equal for each person from the start. Are we perfect? Not even close. To borrow a joke from comedian Louis C.K., I’m a straight, white male, so... yay!
It is still much easier for white males to ascend in this country, and to be paid adequately for said ascension. That’s how it is, as unfair as it sounds. But that doesn’t mean a black man can’t become president, a woman can’t become CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a homosexual can’t become a prominent lawmaker. Every person has a chance, even if some have to work even harder than others.
And working hard gets you respect in this country.
I was reminded of this again while watching the World Cup over the past few weeks. It was obvious that the American team was simply not as good as our opponents, as the other teams appeared to have controlled the action quite a bit more than our boys did. However, the American team grinded. They worked together, they covered for each other’s mistakes and they left everything they had inside them out on the field when all was said and done.
That’s an American team right there, and that’s what Americans want to see.
As you are out celebrating on the Fourth this year, take a look around you, if only for a minute. You will see people of all genders, races, religions, ages and ethnicities decked out in red, white and blue. You will see children with their faces painted with patriotic flair, and American flags flying outside homes and businesses. It won’t be about Democrat or Republican, straight or homosexual, Christian, Jewish or atheist. It will be about a group of people who are thankful to live where they do, and showing off the pride they have in their nation.
That is America. And that is why she is still great today.