Can We Celebrate a Flawed Nation? Yes!

Rightly done, the festivities of the 4th of July are part of a modern ritual to remind ourselves and our children of the forward-looking hope and aspiration for freedom and justice that is woven into America’s DNA.

What happens when a woke and wealthy football player-turned-marketing activist appropriates a flag’s historical significance? Well, naturally, he convinces a multi-billion dollar, American-based company to pull merchandise out of stores immediately before it is set to be released—and they just do it. While some thumb their noses at a flag designed by Betsy Ross with the intent to represent the unity of the 13 original American colonies, millions of Americans will spend the 4th of July celebrating how grateful they are to live in one of the greatest, most prosperous nations in human history.

Similar to Thanksgiving, the 4th of July is an invitation to reflect on how blessed we are. It is a call for gratitude. We could have been born in Venezuela or China—in fact, some Americans were—yet here we are, breathing the air of freedom and standing on the soil of liberty. In recent years, increasing numbers of Americans have struggled to grapple with how we can celebrate the birth of a nation that battled the demons of slavery, bigotry, and the mistreatment of Native Americans. How can a nation that deprived minorities and women equal treatment under the law be lifted up as an exemplar throughout the world? The nation that placed some of its own in internment camps in the wake of attacks on Pearl Harbor should never be celebrated, right?

Can we celebrate a flawed nation? The answer is an emphatic “yes.”

America's Hope

The 4th of July is a time to commemorate our freedom, to be grateful for the prosperity and opportunities we have been blessed with. It should not be a time for idolizing the past or blinkered nostalgia. Our founders, though many were brilliant and brave, were flawed, morally compromised men. But there is still plenty of reason to celebrate. Rightly done, the festivities of the 4th of July—parades, fireworks, neighborhood picnics, and kids with sparklers—are part of a modern ritual to remind ourselves and our children of the forward-looking hope and aspiration for freedom and justice that is woven into America’s DNA.

These forward-looking hopes and aspirations have resulted in reckonings throughout our history as we have sought to right our wrongs:

The hideousness of slavery was met with the heroism of abolitionists and a tidal wave of American blood spilled on the battlefields of Gettysburg, Bull Run, and Shiloh.

The 15th and 19th Amendments burst through the injustice of government-sanctioned inequalities.

The reparations issued to those directly affected by Japanese internment necessarily highlight the guilt of a nation’s unjust, knee-jerk reaction to fear.

The United States has a long history of seeking to bring justice where injustice once prevailed. This truth should help us recognize that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be celebrated.

The United States has a long history of seeking to bring justice where injustice once prevailed. This truth should help us recognize that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be celebrated. Think about all of the birthdays we would have to forego if perfection were a prerequisite for honoring our entrance into the world. And perhaps even more to the point: there is not a single nation that can meet the high standard of scrutiny and judgment that progressive activists and Hollywood performers hold their homeland to.

Colin Kaepernick and other critics of America are free to speak their minds about the United States and its flag—and we may not support all the things done under that banner. But the flag—and the concept of America—doesn’t belong to any one person, politician, or political party. For those of us who love this country and its people, we don’t have to let others take away the gratitude we feel for living here.

Below are a few truths we can steep ourselves in as we reflect on the importance of this day.

America: Land of Opportunity

Few nations in human history have ever laid the groundwork for such widespread economic opportunity as the United States. Even though there is much room for improvement, America ranks among countries with the highest quality of life and regularly receives high marks in personal and economic freedom. This is most soberly evidenced on our southern border as a surge of immigrants risk their lives to come here because they recognize the liberty and prosperity a life in the United States affords.

America: Land of the Free

The US may have 99 problems, but freedom ain’t one of them. To the Women’s March protestor fearlessly marching alongside thousands of others, consider the woman longing simply to take off her hijab in public or perhaps drive a car. To the man who freely rants on Twitter about his hatred for law enforcement, consider the untold victims killed under oppressive regimes for no other crime than yearning for freedom in their homeland.

America: Home of the Brave

The freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis have been bought and paid for by the blood of our fellow Americans, both past and present. Six of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence died as a result of the revolution. For them, the words, “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” weren’t just platitudes. They recognized that once they signed that document, there was no going back.

On the battlefield, beginning with “the Shot Heard Round the World” in Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1775 to 9/11 and beyond, there are brave Americans who continue to lay it all on the line in order to preserve this hard-won, high-priced freedom.

America has always been made up of flawed people. Let’s teach its history to our children, showing them how to navigate the nuance and messiness of it all.

America has always been made up of flawed people. Let’s teach its history to our children, showing them how to navigate the nuance and messiness of it all. And then, perhaps when they are older, they won’t see a flag sewn by Betsy Ross—an entrepreneur, a wartime widow, and mother—as an intolerable affront. Instead, maybe they will see it as a beautiful invitation to celebrate how far we have come and a reminder of gratitude that there is hope to make our lives and the lives of our children even better.

Further Reading

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