Beau­ti­ful for a pa­triot’s dream

The Fourth of July is about na­tional pride, and Amer­ica’s en­ti­tled

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Suzanne Fields Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

Ap­proach­ing the first Fourth of July in the time of Trump, a hol­i­day Amer­i­cans also call “In­de­pen­dence Day,” it’s hard to find much in­de­pen­dent think­ing. Po­lar­ized rages and rants fol­low red and blue pat­terns of di­vi­sion, deep­en­ing the frag­men­ta­tion of na­tional unity and mak­ing pa­tri­otic pride sus­pect. Ver­bal fire­works are to­day’s “bombs burst­ing in air.”

With so much ac­ri­mony and con­tin­u­ous anger, par­ti­san­ship trumps pa­tri­o­tism.

We act as if our po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences are break­ing points, as Yeats fa­mously put it, “Things fall apart, the cen­ter can­not hold.” In an at­tempt to counter the lin­ger­ing ran­cor of a bit­ter pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the new pres­i­dent on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day pro­claimed a Na­tional Day of Pa­tri­otic De­vo­tion. This was a plain-vanilla phrase, urg­ing Amer­i­cans to “main­tain faith in our sa­cred val­ues and her­itage,” but At­lantic mag­a­zine sneered that it was “ba­nal sen­ti­ment” at best, or worse, “an echo of the more trou­bling rum­bles of white-iden­tity pol­i­tics.” (Who knew?)

Of­fi­cial procla­ma­tions of pres­i­dents have a way of dis­ap­pear­ing down the mem­ory hole of blovi­a­tions past, while blovi­a­tions present heighten fo­cus and in­vite crit­i­cism. Barack Obama on his In­au­gu­ra­tion Day pro­claimed a

“Na­tional Day of Re­newal and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.” It might have been char­ac­ter­ized at best as an empty al­lit­er­a­tive phrase, or worse, an echo of more trou­bling rum­bles of Un­cle Tom ap­pease­ment. But those were more mel­low days, and it was gen­er­ally ig­nored.

Few re­call that Jimmy Carter dur­ing his last month in of­fice pro­claimed Na­tional Pa­tri­o­tism Week, to be ob­served by his suc­ces­sor, no doubt as­sum­ing that Ron­ald Rea­gan was bet­ter at car­ry­ing off that kind of sen­ti­ment. Pres­i­dent Carter called on all pri­mary and sec­ondary schools to study the Pledge of Al­le­giance, the na­tional an­them, seals and mot­tos, his­toric mon­u­ments and he­roes. Any­body aware of that hap­pen­ing?

Pres­i­dent Trump is widely ac­cused of jin­go­ism for even mouthing the plat­i­tudes of pa­tri­o­tism. Ours is a time to airbrush he­roes from his­tory no mat­ter who is in the White House. There’s a hole in a heart too worldly-wise to take pride in our his­tory, and the younger gen­er­a­tions will pay for it in hurt as they grow up in what re­ally is a land of the free and the home of the brave.

“And be­cause our his­tory is com­plex, the teach­ing of it re­quires tex­ture and nu­ance, not ide­ol­ogy or op­por­tunis­tic pol­i­tics,” Robert D. Ka­plan, se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, writes in For­eign Pol­icy mag­a­zine. He has lit­tle pa­tience for Don­ald Trump’s sim­plis­tic view of Amer­i­can his­tory, but finds a dan­ger just as great em­a­nat­ing from “the hard-line aca­demic left,” where text­books are writ­ten in the ide­ol­ogy of cam­pus protest. If any­one in the na­tion’s past is to be ad­mired, he must be care­fully cherry-picked.

He specif­i­cally cites the way John C. Cal­houn, vice pres­i­dent, sec­re­tary of war, a prom­i­nent anti-Bri­tish hawk in the War of 1812, one of the most gifted or­a­tors and po­lit­i­cal the­o­rists of his day, must be erased from his­tory with his pro-slav­ery stri­dency. Sim­i­larly, Pres­i­dent An­drew Jack­son, a pro­tean fig­ure of the early repub­lic, whose mil­i­tary lead­er­ship in the war of 1812 kept the Bri­tish from clos­ing the Mis­sis­sippi and di­vid­ing the coun­try, must be painted out be­cause he re­moved thou­sands of Chero­kees from the At­lantic to the Ok­la­homa wilder­ness.

“But while his­tor­i­cal rep­u­ta­tions may change over time,” Mr. Ka­plan writes, “dele­git­imiz­ing rather than merely cri­tiquing the core drama of the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence — the set­tle­ment of a con­ti­nent, which Jack­son and Cal­houn did so much to foster — will leave us morally help­less in deal­ing with the chal­lenges of a dan­ger­ous world that cries out for our help.”

He re­minds us that we are who we are through our best and worst at­tributes, shame­ful and en­nobling, with ideals some­times hon­ored only in the breach. We ended slav­ery through a bloody Civil War, and righted wrongs against man, woman and now the trans­gen­dered. In set­tling a con­ti­nent so rich in nat­u­ral re­sources, fer­tile earth and solid rock, muddy rivers and crys­tal lakes, leafy glens, pet­ri­fied forests, black coal and sub­ter­ranean gush­ers, it was brave men and coura­geous women who risked their lives to make the land a bet­ter place.

They were not al­ways heroic, but of­ten were. We sur­vived a great De­pres­sion, gal­va­nized to win two world wars and af­ter that a Cold War, heirs to strengths forged in a hard­scrab­ble ex­pe­ri­ence that en­abled us to pre­serve noth­ing less than civ­i­liza­tion.

When Jef­fer­son be­gins his fa­mous dec­la­ra­tion, “When in the course of hu­man events,” he’s talk­ing about us hu­mans, who thrive with a govern­ment of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple, for the peo­ple. Let’s ap­pre­ci­ate that — and light a sparkler to honor the birth­day of that great dec­la­ra­tion.


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