For at least one day, we are all Americans

We are currently a nation that is, at best, divided.

We argue over the distribution of wealth, as the gap between the wealthiest and poorest continues to widen, while the middle class seemingly gets squeezed from both directions. We argue over the rights of same-sex couples to enjoy the same benefits as more “traditional” couples.

We argue over our government’s policies with the Middle East, Asia and Cuba, and we argue over whether or not racism is still alive in this country, as black churches burn across the south and church members in South Carolina are executed over the color of their skin.

We argue over the rights of honest citizens to arm themselves, and we argue over the rights of people who enter our nation illegally to drive cars and collect benefits.

We argue — though I’m sure there are some of you out there who are ready to argue with me that we don’t argue all that much.

And, in a paragraph that doesn’t begin with the word “we,” let me point out that the fact that we argue so much tells me that we are still enjoying our freedoms today as much as we ever have. It’s our obligation to stand up for what we believe in as Americans, and it is only through reasonable conversation and discourse that we can continue to grow and evolve as a nation.

Of course, a good number of the arguments I’ve personally witnessed would not fall under the category of “reasonable,” and make me wonder sometimes if the rift between idealogies is now so vast that civil debate no longer carries any real water, as we have collectively closed our minds to whatever logic the other side might be arguing. We have become a nation collectively dedicated more to digging our heels in the sand than listening to reason, and that is the one trait many of us share that leaves me a bit pessimistic about our nation’s future.

If we can not cooperate, and if we do not listen to new ideas, then where are we? Still scared of the wheel? Etching drawings on cave walls? Pawing at the air and bemoaning the fact that other industrialized nations have surpassed us in industry, education and health care? An old coach of mine used to harp on us that, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”

That’s because everyone else is working on becoming better.

So, what can we do to knock down some of the walls that have divided us? I’d start with respect. It’s a simple notion, and at some point we were all taught that the only way to earn respect is to give respect. We have to be willing to take a moment and listen to what people of different beliefs have to say. We have to be able to truly understand where they are coming from on each particular issue so we can make informed decisions individually.

We have to stop treating life strictly as a team sport consisting of two political parties in uniforms, and start embracing the fact that we have free will, and can make our own decisions, thank you very much. It’s perfectly fine to identify yourself as a Republican or Democrat, and I readily encourage everybody who does align themselves with a party to get involved and help get out the word that the party is trying to convey.

But I’m also saying it’s perfectly fine to hold the leaders of your party accountable, and to question them if something doesn’t feel right to you personally. Can you be a Republican who is against the death penalty? Sure. Can you be a Democrat and be for the death penalty? Yes. It’s a complicated issue, and we all have the right to feel however we feel.

Maybe more importantly, can you feel one way about the death penalty or the Confederate flag or same-sex marriage or immigration or gun rights and be friends with someone who has completely opposite views? Can you still hang out with that person and listen to his or her opinions without calling that person stupid or naive?

When you are out and about this weekend celebrating the anniversary of July 4, 1776, and all that means, take a look around. You’ll see people of all different genders, sizes, shapes, colors, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations sporting the colors red, white and blue. You will see them applaud fireworks bursting in the night’s sky, and watch them interact with their children or spouses or friends, the same way you will be doing at that very moment. We will all be united as Americans, and the rancor and discord will be on temporary hold.

Just a bunch of Americans celebrating together.