With Liberty and Justice For All

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I write this on July 4, 2020, a day when an uptick in cases of Covid-19 has resulted in the closing of beaches and parks. There is a mask mandate in my state and I received a text from my doctor suggesting strongly that I stay at home. It will be a different kind of holiday from the seventy two others through which I have lived and I find myself feeling quite pensive as I think about my country and its people. There is a great deal of division and unrest at work during this time. There are many questions about what constitutes patriotism and as I ponder such thoughts I think about a survey that asked non-Americans to describe what they like best about the United States.

It is interesting that those who are not citizens of my country often view our nation from different perspectives. They overwhelming speak of the bounty of our nation. They point to the massive houses in which we live and the amount of land that is still so open. They think that our food is undoubtedly the best in the world and they maintain that nobody creates entertainment as well as we do. More so than any other aspect of our country they find our diversity to be amazing and beautiful. They are in awe of our right to criticize our government and its leaders without fear.

Of late almost every issue within the United States has been highly politicized and certain groups claim the mantle of patriotism in the name of only certain kinds of approved behavior. It is all too often asserted that anything less than unflinching allegiance to a particular way of thinking about the United States and its history and traditions is an affront to those who have fought for the freedoms that we have. In truth a thoughtful analysis of the revolutionary ideals of the United States would point to a more generous attitude toward freedom of expression. The visitors to our country seem to understand better than some of those who are citizens that the most wonderful aspect of our country is its glorification of free speech and thought. The intent of our founders was to build a land in which patriotism meant honoring individual rights to disagree. This is indeed the very thing that countless individuals have fought to defend.

Our pledge speaks of liberty and justice for all and yet anyone with a modicum of observational skills must surely understand that our society is an imperfect rendition of that ideal. There are people living in our country who were once denied even the most basic of all freedoms. They were held as property, rated by monetary value, counted as  fractional humans. It is not unpatriotic to note these things. They are true and we have advanced enough to understand that they were wrong.

Our nation was severed in violence and bloodshed during a war that pitted state against state because some states worried that their economic future might be disrupted by the gradual elimination of slavery. Literally every article of secession listed anti-slavery policies as the reason for withdrawing from the union. The states rights for which they fought was the right to continue owning human beings. Their act was treason and resulted in the greatest loss of life in war this nation has ever known. In spite of the suffering that the traitors inflicted on the country our country chose reconciliation and healing when the war ended. It had finally righted the wrong of slavery that had so stained the fabric of liberty and justice. The nation attempted to become one again.

There have been many other struggles to maintain freedom since that time. Our imperfections have persisted alongside our desire to be a democratic republic with the compelling goal of providing liberty and justice to all. We battle again and again to preserve those ideals even as we must surely know that their distribution is not always even and fair. Still we do our best because we love this country even when we believe that it is moving in the wrong direction. We are not a monarchy that idolizes a single individual as the arbiter of our laws. We are a democratic republic that allows us to select individuals to represent us and a president to insure that all of our voices are heard. We note the wrong when they occur  not because we hate our country but because we love it. We do not leave or rent our nation in two because our fight is to help our country move toward closer and closer approximations of perfection.

Who is the greater patriot, the person with blind allegiance or the one who is willing to risk being denounced for alerting us to injustice? Which is more courageous, following rules even when they are clearly hurting people or doing something audacious to bring wrongs to light? Did our founding fathers intend for the citizens of this country to intimidate those who have differing points of view? Did they believe that we must all walk in lockstep? Is it possible that the person who quietly kneels during our national anthem is actually doing something great for our country rather than insulting it? Should we be tied to the status quo or do we need to confront issues that continue to plague us? Does making our country great again mean doing things in only one prescribed way that ignores the needs of those who are struggling to feel valued and respected? 

We have become a beautifully diverse nation of many cultures. People have always come here in search of freedom and acceptance. They have followed the rules, fought in the wars, worked to make lives for themselves and their families in spite of the reality that they have not always been treated as fairly as they hoped. At this watershed moment of our history perhaps it is time for each of us to realize that a mindless virus better understands that we are all the same. It discriminates less than we humans have so often done. If we are to truly be as patriotic as we sometimes claim we are then our love of country should lead us to the determination to ensure that liberty and justice are finally and truly the right of all. There can be no better sign of our greatness as a country than embracing all of our fellow citizens and righting the wrongs that are limiting their liberty. Only then will we all be free at last.