Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).
Calvin Heffes is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The arrival of our nation’s birthday is traditionally met with fireworks, beer and popsicles. But given the events taking place this year, it’s hard to picture the 2020 celebration being as lively as it has been in the past. Many people will question, and rightfully so, the celebration of a country that continues to allow injustices to occur.
We are in the midst of amplified tensions surrounding racism and police brutality, as well as a questionable response to a global pandemic from federal leaders. What exactly do we have to be commemorating right now?
I know my generation well enough to predict that on this Independence Day, the airwaves will be flooded with similar sentiments. You will likely see the same quips at our nation’s history and our current White House administration. You will scroll through an onslaught of Instagram stories that alternate from fireworks and lakes to social justice activism.
People will celebrate anyway, but the question is: should we? As students privileged enough to study at a well-regarded private institution, we carry a responsibility to model appropriate behavior. Is celebrating a nation where such injustices continue to happen responsible?
To answer that question, we first need to consider what it is that we are celebrating. I argue that yes, a celebration is not only forgivable, but warranted.
I’m proud to be a part of a generation that is passionate about change. However, one major issue I find with the attitudes of my peers is that this fiercely progressive disposition is often complemented with a lack of humility and appreciation for what we do have.
Countless men and women in our history have died to give Americans more freedoms, however limited and non-inclusive as they were, and yet we seem to write them off entirely. Progress should not have to be all-encompassing to be recognized.
There is a growing belief among our generation that America is a terrible country, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is either a victim of propaganda or blinded by privilege. Trust me, the immigrants who risk their lives to come to this country are not victims of propaganda. They know better than most how great this country truly is. It is why they risk everything, including punishment from our government and theirs, just to come here.
The hang-up for many people is that when our nation was founded, most privileges were only allotted to wealthy white men. But when we celebrate the Fourth of July, we are not celebrating the injustices that occurred during our nation’s founding, nor are we implying that these same injustices no longer occur. We are celebrating the American ideals that we still struggle to live up to today: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.
We are celebrating the idea that the individual is the cornerstone of the state, that each human is endowed with divine value and that freedom must be protected despite the steep cost. We have failed to live up to these ideals many times, but that is why we must not forget them — we must keep striving toward them.
We are also celebrating the men and women who have fought to make sure no danger makes its way to our shores, and we are honoring those who have already passed while doing the same.
Like every society that has existed since the beginning of civilization, America is not perfect. No one is claiming that it is. Celebrating the great things about this country is not a dismissal of the issues it has. But if we lose an appreciation for what we have in the pursuit of what could be, we will lose everything.
That is what July Fourth is about: celebrating what we have, and the sacrifices that it took to get us here. America is the birthplace of computing technology that revolutionized the world. We are under the protection of the most powerful military in the world, we can criticize our leaders in public and we are free to worship however we please.
In many parts of the world, these privileges are still far out of reach. And for most of human history, they were not guaranteed at all.
So this Fourth of July, feel free to crack open a beer, light off some fireworks and share memories with your family and friends. Celebrate the freedom we have in this nation, and revel in all we have to be grateful for. No, this country isn’t perfect, and we have a long way to go, but we should all be proud to be Americans.