It has been 243 years since July 4, 1776. What an amazing journey it has been for our country! We have survived a civil war, two world wars, a great recession and depression. We have survived slavery and many other cultural and class struggles.
For almost the first century of our country’s existence only white men could vote. Now minorities and women represent more than 50% of the voting age population. Just another initial imperfection from the days of our founding fathers that we have changed for the better.
We focus so much on the negative these days. Some might even yearn for the good old days of the past. As warm as those nostalgic feelings may be, we are better off as a nation today than we have ever been.
Despite the challenging cost of healthcare, our country remains on the cutting edge of medical science. Despite the widening chasm between the very rich and the poor, almost everyone is better off than we were during the depression. Despite the aggravating move towards governing by tweet, the gerrymandering of the opposition into oblivion, and the partisanship gridlock found in our state and national politics, our republic remains strong.
We have always celebrated July 4th as the official birthdate of our nation. Perhaps we should spend a little more time celebrating how we have changed as a nation and a people.
The evolution of American democracy is a marvel that likely will not be replicated, certainly not in our lifetime. Our challenge is to make sure we do not follow the examples of the previous great civilizations in history and bring the demise upon ourselves.
We have a few ticking time bombs out there that should be of concern as the fireworks go off in the night. Exploding debt. Income inequality. Healthcare issues. Global warming. Immigration issues around the world. The expansion of countries with an offensive nuclear presence.
That doesn’t begin to start the list of things that can go wrong on a more regional and local level. You can be in a war today at the blink of an eye. Genocide can result in the death of hundreds of thousands of people and will not even be the opening story on the nightly news. I fear that our own lack of willingness to compromise with those having opposing views remains our biggest challenge.
My own family will celebrate differently this year. For the past 106 years, seven generations of parts of my family have joined together at Compass Lake for July 4th. There have only been a few exceptions. Thanks to the lingering effects of Hurricane Michael, this year will be one of those exceptions and we will celebrate our nation’s birth while visiting Auburn.
Like our country, our family is evolving and adapting. We will have ribs, only from a restaurant. We will eat watermelon, only not in a swimsuit after just jumping off the dock. We will have homemade ice cream, which is amazingly good no matter where you choose to make it.
We will share stories of years gone by. We will play games, take walks, and eat some more. We will enjoy each other and give thanks that we are blessed to live in the United States of America.
At the end of the day, it is still great to be an American. No matter your race, political party, religion or socio-economic status, it is great to be an American. That doesn’t include only those that are just like us. It includes all of us. The diversity of America began 243 years ago. We are Americans, one and all.
Happy Birthday, America!
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org