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Although a number of other dates could have reasonably been chosen, we celebrate July 4th as the birthday of this great nation. It was on this day 237 years ago that a group of aristocrats from what would later become the 13 original United States signed a document telling the British Empire, the most powerful nation on the planet at the time, that we’d had enough of their bullshit and were going our own way. We had already taken up arms to back our words up and, a few years later, we became the United States of America.

The Avenue in the Rain (Childe Hassam, 1917)

The Avenue in the Rain (Childe Hassam, 1917)

The Declaration of Independence signed on July 4th stands as one of the most powerful statements of human dignity ever written by anyone, anywhere. Its signing set in motion the creation of both a history and a mythology that we, as Americans, cling to with pride.  In the views of the Founding Fathers we can all find something to support just about any political position we might choose to take, thereby wrapping ourselves in a red, white and blue cloak of patriotism for everyone to see.

Patriotism. One of many words in the English language stripped of its meaning by continued misuse. In a time when anyone who shows up in some dumbassed reality TV show is a “star,” some people think that driving down the road blaring Toby Keith songs in a pickup truck plastered with American flag stickers makes you a patriot.

Personally, I believe that Jefferson would be sickened by what has become of the America he helped create. Think about this: when the debate over the draft declaration was unfolding, only 9 of the 13 colonies actually supported independence. The delegates found a way to set their differences aside and present a united front. Imagine Congress doing something like that today. More likely, they’d find some tricky little procedural way to stall it until they could go on vacation.

We used to be able to come together and solve big problems. These days, what passes for politics involves little more than gathering on the streets screaming at people you disagree with or, worse yet, posting stupid shit on Facebook. Most people never get past sitting in front of a TV watching someone else bitch on their behalf. If you get angry about the right things, well, man, you’re a patriot.

We have become our own tyrants now, but somehow I have all the faith in the world that we can find that rational voice inside our own heads, the one that tells us that a patriot sets aside prejudice and vanity and works for the good of the Nation. Please, America, put down your remote and make a choice to lead or follow, or at the very least, step aside and get out of the way.

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