Happy Fourth of July from Star Spangled Gamblers! This is a serious holiday that we tend to treat like the summer beer Olympics. That’s fine, we love beer too; but as you celebrate, do so safely, and with a few things in mind:
(1) DON’T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED.
Your comfortable life came at a steep cost. Turn down that Lee Greenwood song and remember that more than a million men & women have died protecting our nation.
These were young people who had plans for their lives: they wanted to get married or save enough money to buy a car; but instead, they died in agony with their face in the dirt.
No one wants to be a name etched on a monument.
(2) EMBRACE CHANGE.
Our ancestors risked their lives coming to America. It was dangerous to immigrate here in 1776, and for many, it’s still dangerous today.
This fact is absolutely central to our national identity. We are the strongest nation on earth because we are the only one that people opt-in to voluntarily.
Other nations are the homelands of a people – the English, the Chinese, the Sudanese – but we are the homeland of ideas. This sets-up a natural conflict, one where successive generations must debate how our foundational values apply to modernity, or whether they are even worth it at all.
There is a sense of terror right now because young people are challenging the way things are done. But that’s a perfectly healthy thing. After all, being an American isn’t an inheritable trait the way being British is. It’s not enough to look vaguely similar to people in nearby villages and to speak a common tongue.
We are a strong nation because we collectively decide that it’s worth our time to be that way. The process of persuasion – of earning a national commitment from millions – is what makes us who we are.
(3) GIVE YOUR ANCESTORS CREDIT.
All nations are a work in progress, but don’t let yourself be fooled by the cynics – ours is almost certainly the greatest there ever was.
Yes, Americans have invented countless gadgets, from iPhones to airplanes, but our greatest export is a political system that empowers people to travel and trade freely, and to express themselves without fear of incurring violence.
These things are so elemental to modern life that most people take them for granted. But in reality, they’re very new in the scope of history, and they only exist because of the sacrifices made by American diplomats, warriors, and entrepreneurs.
A weak reading of history says that Americans are altruists who believe in giving away freedom for freedom’s sake. That’s not true at all – we are a deeply self-interested nation, sometimes to our own detriment. What’s special about American power is that it’s predicated on an apparent contradiction: that compassion and self-interest go hand-in-hand. That my security and my prosperity are connected to that of my neighbors — not just here, but around the world.
This is an important deviation from history’s course: to put into practice the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and to believe that one nation can supply the gravitational pull to raise all of humanity along with it.
That’s a big goal and it often temps hubris. But for the most part, the results speak for themselves: the planet is freer and wealthier than it’s ever been, and filled with the song of diverse human expression.
This is not the natural way of things. History, even recent, is far bleaker. Our place in this illuminated era is privileged, and it’s thanks to the USA.