Independence Day, the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and a day on which the United States generally comes together to celebrate one of the most significant milestones in the formation of this country with patriotic displays. Particularly the fireworks. All joking aside, though, on this particular Independence Day, the 236th of its kind, I'd like to take a moment to think about what that patriotism actually is.
I've said more than once that I consider myself to be a patriot. And I have no problem saying that to others as part of my introduction, perhaps even part of how I define myself. I am proud to be a citizen of the United States, and I want to see the United States and its people thrive. I believe that there are concepts that are fundamentally part of the United States and its worldview: ideals like those of liberty, justice, freedom and equality for all. These are words and ideas - love for one's country and love for its ideals - that are part of how I understand patriotism and are more often than not part of the discussion on days like today.
I would be remiss, however, to rest on those words, just as I would be unwise to trumpet my perhaps unwarranted pride. The word "patriotism", like any other label in the English language, means all sorts of things to all sorts of people, and I would be greatly mistaken to assume that it is a positive label for anyone that might read this. It is a word that celebrates adherence to a country that has made its fair share of mistakes - and that could be said whether the country in question is the United States or not!
Most dangerously, it is a word that even for me calls up the words "my country, right or wrong." It can be a shield behind which all manner of chaos and destruction hides, all in the name of those ideals I mentioned above. As I call myself a patriot - a standard-bearer for the United States, its pride and its ideals - I too must acknowledge the mistakes we have made and continue to make in the name of that pride. It is those words, though, which offer me an answer as well - allow me to finish the quote. Courtesy of Carl Schurz, a Union Army general in the Civil War and later U.S. Senator, from on the floor of the Senate in 1872: "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."
To those in the United States and those outside it; to all who celebrate this day whether they be U.S. citizens or not; to the people who look up to the standard set by our ideals and the people who criticize the ways in which we fail to live up to them... happy Independence Day. As we look back and celebrate the anniversary of that step on the road to the founding of our nation, allow me to renew my own vow of patriotism to my country.
There are many things the United States gets right, and I will take pride in what we have accomplished. To me, this is part of being a patriot, and so today I celebrate my home country and its Independence Day. Importantly, though, it is not the only part. It is also my duty as a patriot to take the mistakes that the United States has made and make them right again. Accordingly, I will take this day and remind myself that I cannot rest on that pride alone, not until the day comes that my ideals are reality, not until the United States and its people truly enjoy the things we have been promised: our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; our ideal of freedom and justice for all.