We Should Celebrate Our Imperfect Union

It seems that in recent years, particularly with the proliferation of social media, sanctimonious liberals love to use Independence Day as an occasion to remind everyone of the appalling deeds in America’s history. Go check out Twitter, or even some of your own friends on Facebook to see what I’m talking about. Or you can visit Salon and Vox to see more boorish writings about America’s failings throughout the years.

Likewise, many on the right go too far in belittling America’s sins, raising the Founding Fathers and the country itself up to a level of deification that could very well be described as idolatry. Criticism of the United States is generally met with a hearty, and cliche, “Love it or leave it,” mantra, or something of the sort. Of course, many on the right also bring up an overreaching and burdensome federal government, something that would rightfully horrify most of the Founders and early figures in our government (except for the newly-popular Alexander Hamilton, probably), as a reason not to celebrate the day.

My humble contention would be that it is entirely possible to love the United States of America while acknowledging that we as a country run by inherently flawed human beings have erred in the past and will continue to do so. To paraphrase Federalist #51, men (and women) are not angels, nor are we governed by them. There is no denying the Trail of Tears, slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, segregation, and the like. Indeed, to do so would be a gross disservice to history itself, and a proper understanding of the subject. As the old adage goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” An incomplete learning of history, warts and all, is of no value.

As for those who wish to show the world just how “enlightened” they are by highlighting the aforementioned abominations in our history while discounting the good and noble attributes and deeds of the United States, they are just as guilty of the “all or nothing” groupthink of their counterparts on the right who don’t acknowledge the bad. There is a proper place for learning of and accepting these dark chapters in history without making them the lens through which we view American history in its entirety. After all, this is still the country that extricated Europe from the clutches of the Nazis and cured itself of the grievous sin of slavery only after hundreds of thousands of lives were lost during roughly five years of a bloody national divorce.

What’s more, the work of brave American women such as Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony eventually brought about an end to the absurd notion that women shouldn’t have a voice in choosing the elected officials who represented them. Martin Luther King and other great Americans in the Civil Rights movement finally rid this country of evils like segregation and “separate but equal” accommodations and education, and at a great and well-known cost. To only acknowledge and bemoan the grave injustices which inspired these individuals and others to act is to ignore the much-needed changes they managed to bring about, and is an insult to their memory and legacy.

The preamble to the Constitution describes an intention “to form a more perfect Union.” The lesson here is, quite simply, that the United States has been and will always be a work in progress. Let’s not forget that the United States is still a relatively young country by comparison to many others in the world.

Our 250th “birthday” won’t take place until 2026. To put that in perspective, the City of London was 250 years old by around 300 AD, while places in the Middle East and other parts of the world date back several thousand years. In such a comparatively short time, I would argue that this country has come a very long way, and that ought to be celebrated. You and I can be immensely proud of this fact while acknowledging the faults in the process, as well as seeking to address the issues we face in our own time. There will be plenty of time for that.

For now, let’s take some time to celebrate not only our independence itself, but the deeds of Americans who came along later on and helped to make the ideas of liberty a greater and truer reality.

  • MD Russ

    Wonderful post, Andrew, and your point is very well-stated. The Hate America crowd would do well to contemplate our republic’s history in proper context. For example, you cite the evils of the Trail of Tears, slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, and segregation. How many Americans today realize that it was Democrats, and not Republicans, who instigated or defended those crimes against humanity? To hear modern Democratic liberals tell the story, Republicans (the Party of Lincoln) did it all by themselves while inventing small pox and syphilis.

    As an amateur historian and political scientist, one of my favorite quotes is from a French writer who doubtlessly influenced our Founders, François-Marie Arouet. (Known by most people by his nom de plume of Voltaire.) “History is a bag of tricks that the living play on the dead.”

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