July 4th: a day to celebrate America. Fireworks, cookouts, family gatherings, red, white, and blue bunting and a long weekend have become the hallmarks of Independence Day. Flags waving and renditions of our national anthem being played, soldiers and citizens marching in parades and massive pyrotechnical displays set to classical music symbolize our patriotic feelings.
But what patriotism means in 2014 is not so sharply or easily defined. In the dictionary, patriotism is simply described as, “love for, or devotion to one’s country.” And certainly, the festive celebrating done across demonstrates American enthusiasm.
Yet our country right now is marked by an unprecedented divisiveness — a Congress so enmeshed in vitriol that it can get nothing done, two political parties that can find no common ground, political agendas controlled by spin doctors and polling numbers, an economic divide between the haves and the have-nots that is Grand Canyonesque — with each side claiming itself to be the true bearer of American values.
The angry, diametrically opposed rhetoric does not demonstrate love for one’s country, but rather merely an infatuation with the point of view espoused. This quagmire of resentment seems decidedly unpatriotic.
So rather than setting off a few bottle rockets, or baking red white and blue cupcakes, perhaps the real celebration of our nation’s independence would be to understand it better — to see how and where we began, where we are and think about where we should go from here.
Here are a few ideas for this 4th of July that should develop real patriotism:
Read the Declaration of Independence, the very signing of which we celebrate on July 4. While many people have some idea of the principals involved, only 28 percent of Americans have read the whole document, according to a 2010 survey done by the Center for the Constitution. So many of the issues — freedom of speech, gay marriage, gun rights, abortion, immigration — which have split our country into a bitter divide generate from interpretations of the constitution. As a nation, we should understand what it says — and not merely accept the interpretations heard in the media or offered by politicians.
Promise to vote in November. Midterm elections are coming in the fall and only 40 percent of Americans eligible to vote actually do so. Putting people in office that will be caretakers of our constitution and the people it protects is pretty patriotic.
Understand the impact of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has had on American politics and elections. Citizens United — which in short allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited funds on direct advocacy for or against candidates without disclosure — has forever changed the way elections will be run.
No average American can compete with the billions of dollars being generated by these enormous PAC’s or businesses, the result of which is that more money means more voice. Is the average American’s patriotism less worthy because it lacks monetary value?
Finally, dial down the rabid partisanship. Listening to the opposite point of view, engaging in thoughtful debate and achieving compromise to advance policy for the betterment of the country, rather than a particular politician or a political party, might be the embodiment of patriotism.
Happy 4th of July!
Lisa Perez Tighe has been an attorney, writer and a professor. She attended the University of Notre Dame and New York University School of Law. A native of the Bronx, Lisa currently resides outside of Boston with her husband and four children.