My country ’tis of thee…
sweet land of liberty…
to thee I sing…
And today, sing I do. I also sing America the Beautiful. And I recite the Pledge of Allegiance. These are rituals that harken back to my childhood and which I have sought to pass on to my family, as they were passed on to me. This is to be a joyous day.
But as I see the American flags on the streets, in shadows and mottled light, awaiting the full force of the summer sun, I feel a deep tug at my heart knowing so many of my fellow Americans are beset by a great sadness at the prospects for our nation. I know the pain, and feel it too. This is a day when we should revel in our liberty, speak knowingly of civic pride, gather with friends and family in the solidarity of our citizenship, and reflect on the great beauty and bounty of our land – how lucky so many of us are to be Americans. However, so much of the news is full of dark clouds over our democracy.
I understand many today will hear a certain irony in the great lyrics of the secular hymns to our American republic. I recognize there is ample ammunition for a cynic to claim that to celebrate such values as freedom, to speak of our great democracy, and to pay respect to symbols like the flag in these fraught times is to play into the hands of those who are trying to use patriotism as a hammer to undercut the laws and customs that have guided our nation and to drive wedges in the communities that must come together as one. No doubt, our national leadership will wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes as they try to undermine the very values that have preserved our tenuous republic.
But on this Fourth of July, I refuse to let Donald Trump have the flag of the United States as his own. I refuse to have the Pledge of Allegiance to that flag, which for me harkens to boyhood civics lessons, and U.S. citizenship ceremonies, and the camaraderie for our military, sullied by the jingoism and divisions of our present national leaders. I refuse to have the Star Spangled Banner used as a cudgel against principled speech. I refuse to let the best of this nation be debased and weaponized against truth and justice. I refuse to bow to cynicism.
July 4 celebrates a check on tyranny. It celebrates victory against great odds. It celebrates people who demanded to be counted and heard. But it also recognizes that the goal of a “more perfect union” must remain as a North Star by which we chart our course. The first July 4 did not bring freedom to all, not by a long shot. Our path to progress has always been rocky and uneven. It has required new leadership and inspiration with every generation. This also must be celebrated.
My eyes begin to mist when I think about this nation and what it means to me. I do not apologize for this emotion. It is in me. I have seen the sacrifice done under the umbrella of freedom – from distant beachheads and fox holes, to staring down the dogs and water hoses in civil rights marches, to the quiet heroism of Americans helping their fellow citizens.
This is my America, and it is yours. This is my flag, and it is yours. This is my July 4, and it is yours as well. Let us not forget that, or let them take it away.
*This was first published on Dan’s Facebook page on July 4, 2018