Friday, July 04, 2014

America!

Ah, the glorious Fourth! Happy it!

Americans define patriotism in different ways. Some will break out the American flags and bald eagles; others will add to that symbolism of our country's greatness having much to do with kicking ass, taking names and driving giant trucks. Others will go the opposite extreme and point out all of our nation's many faults.

I'm somewhere in between. I don't think patriotism is gauged exclusively by how vigorously you wave the flag or how many bald eagles adorn your social-media profile, especially at the obvious times of the year. It doesn't lie in how perfectly you recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing songs you learned before you were old enough to comprehend the lyrics. It's not about how conspicuously consumptive you are. It's not about keeping a scorecard of who's a prouder American, so everybody needs to keep up.

That battle's been won, anyway.
That's one way to do it. But plenty of people who wrap themselves in the flag hold beliefs that undermine what America stands for. They have an idea in their heads that there's one way to be an American, and of course it's their way. So they hold the ironic belief that their freedom is more equal than the freedom of those who don't fit the profile. Much repression and justification for vile policies occur under the guise of "freedom."

But neither do I go for the opposite extreme, where people spend the day pointing out every terrible thing for which America is responsible. Those things — genocide, slavery, racism, misogyny, inequality, arrogance, exploitation — are indeed woven into our fabric, and are worth remembering every day. But just as some Americans willingly forget that the United States has any shortcomings, others forget it has any good points. Neither is a particularly productive mode.

I think it's the day-to-day that makes someone a model American. Hard-working (or aspiring to work), compassionate, passionate, engaging in society at large, caring about current events and exercising your rights (with an understanding of how those rights work and pertain to others). Just being here makes you patriotic, because you're living in and shaping America every day. Sometimes it's awesome, and sometimes it sucks — just like the U.S. itself. But as long as you're doing your thing, whatever that is, and not hurting anyone, you're on the right track. Because ultimately, freedom lies simply in being yourself.

That's what I love about America. 

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