OPINION: What does United States of America mean?
What does it mean to be the United States of America?
What does it mean to be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?
What does it mean to let freedom ring from every mountainside?
And what does it mean to be in this county at this time, confronting unparalleled division and vitriol, while a pandemic rages around us?
This Fourth of July, perhaps we should understand that the meaning of this country is not barbecue and fireworks. It’s not closely packed concert halls and teeming bars. The meaning of this country is in every one of us, devoted to the project of creating a more perfect union.
Some might wonder if this is ever possible. Can a nation founded with one race of people enslaved ever truly recover its moral authority? Can a country where wealth was created by forced labor ever truly tell those it abused that they are free?
Not all of these questions can be answered. Some of them aren’t meant to be.
But our country’s founders created ingenious mechanisms for change. They created elected branches that are chosen by voters. They created a Constitution that can be amended and altered — and has been so altered — to expand freedom.
And we have always been prepared to sacrifice. Those of all races, colors and creeds have fought to protect the United States. We are ever in their favor but especially on this day.
We all have to sacrifice now. During the current pandemic crisis, that means wearing masks and practicing social distancing. That means staying home.
These are small things. They aren’t storming a beach at Normandy or leading a revolutionary charge against the British. But they are no less patriotic. They’re about putting others in this country ahead of your immediate self interest — about creating a United States.
The questions won’t go away.
We’re heading into another contentious election season, one that will look unlike any in memory. The temptation will be strong to look the other way, to shut out the noise. But our system only works when everyone participates and elects a truly representative government.
There is so much to be cynical and angry about.
We’ve seen it. Sometimes, we feel it.
But we can’t ignore what this country has accomplished. How far we have all come. How many more people are included, proudly, as full Americans. That’s a measure of success. Not how many flags we put up or fireworks we detonate.
We are this country. This country is us. Its success, its continued thriving, is in our hands.