For me, nothing truly signals the start of summertime quite like the Fourth of July. The combination of barbecues on the beach, sparklers in the sky, and a socially sanctioned day off from school and work combine on the fourth to create the quintessential summer celebration. It’s also my parents’ anniversary and a signal that my favorite holiday – my birthday – is mere weeks away. Suffice it to say, I enjoy celebrating Independence Day.
But, the older and more educated I get, the less I want to celebrate the current state of the union. I do love any excuse to get out the grill and set off some sparklers, but I just don’t know how much I feel like parading patriotically to celebrate a Constitution that our own government barely bothers to respect anymore – and yes, Dick Cheney, the Vice President is indeed a member of the Executive Branch of our government. Cheney’s need to review his Schoolhouse Rock episodes aside, there are a lot of other things about America I’d rather not be celebrating right now.
I don’t want to celebrate the fact that my fees to attend a public institution of higher education are already in the thousands, and the government keeps wanting to raise them higher than that kid I saw in Hempwise on 4/20. I don’t want to celebrate the fact that the same government that says it needs more of my money to fund public education is blowing billions on incompetent and ineffective strategies to fix the damage it did to Iraq in the name of the almighty oil dollar.
I don’t want to celebrate the fact that the same almighty oil dollar, as well as the big businesses that make up that favorite buzzword of professors everywhere – the military-industrial complex – has disproportionate amounts of power over the people who are supposed to be running the country. I don’t want to celebrate the fact that hundreds of people are dying every day from senseless sectarian violence, malnutrition and disease in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa (just to name a few), and the lead story on every nightly newscast is still about Paris Hilton.
I don’t want to celebrate the fact that mandatory minimum sentencing puts non-violent people who smoke pot behind bars, but the Vice President can shoot a guy in the face and not only get away with it, but get the guy to apologize to him on national television. I don’t want to celebrate the fact that Americans consume more resources and produce more waste than any other developed country, and yet our government refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocols and puts more money into exploiting other country’s resources than into finding sustainable solutions to non-renewable resource scarcity.
I don’t want to celebrate the fact that more people vote on American Idol than for the president, or the fact that Americans seemed to think that Norbit, Wild Hogs, and Ghost Rider were all worthy of top-ten box office slots. I don’t want to celebrate the fact that corporations are co-opting everything from the food we eat to the music we listen to, and over-processing it all in the name of cutting costs and making money. I don’t want to celebrate a country where two people who love each other can’t get married merely because they have the same kind of private parts. I don’t want to celebrate the fact that the FCC and the MPAA keep penalizing people for talking openly about sex in the name of the nation’s youth, while Barbies and Bratz continue to ensure that little girls will grow up with plenty of exposure to unrealistic beauty norms, unhealthy ideas about body image, and some seriously warped conceptions of what women should be doing with their lives. I don’t want to celebrate a country where ignorance is bliss, incompetence is the defining characteristic of the highest echelons of our government, and conspicuous consumption is the status quo. I definitely don’t want to celebrate a place where people think they need military assault vehicles named after the British slang term for blow-jobs just to take their kids from school to soccer practice.
But, I do love America. I love the fact that in the past year alone I got to celebrate Channukah, Christmas, Dia de los Muertos, Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Forty-Ounce Tuesdays, Festivus, Summer Solstice, Shabbat, and Earth Day – and I still have Bastille Day to look forward to. I love the fact that my grandparents came here after living through the Holocaust and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 with very little money and even less knowledge of the language, culture, and customs, and yet they still managed to establish an economically and emotionally stable and successful family within just one generation. I love the rich history of music, art, culture, and cuisine America has produced over the years, not to mention the hundreds of great films by American directors that make Norbit look like a bad joke.
I love the fact that even though our elections don’t always turn out the way I’d like, we’ve managed to pull off a few hundred years of peaceful power transfers, regardless of who wins or loses. I love the fact that I can still go into a drugstore and buy contraceptives without stigma or sanction, regardless of how much the far right tries to regulate my personal life. But most of all, I love the fact that I have a forum where I can freely express my feelings about what I hate most about this country without worrying about the repercussions. Sure, some members of the government might try to limit or take away that right in the name of homeland security – perhaps even those same members who need refresher courses in the lessons I learned by watching Schoolhouse Rock – but thus far they have not succeeded. And the fact that processes are in place to prevent such unilateral abuses of power is just another reason why I love this country.
I guess, in the end, I do consider myself a patriot. And not just the kind of patriot that hangs a flag outside on the Fourth so I have a good excuse to drink domestic beer and set off fireworks in my backyard. My relationship with this country is more like a relationship with a close friend or family member; I may not love everything about it all the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that I do love it. And I suppose that love is worth celebrating.