Today is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, as it is known in the United States of America. Today, we mark the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. I find it interesting that we do not celebrate the day independence was actually achieved, either with the British surrender of Yorktown or the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, but instead the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Declaration was signed quite early in the Revolutionary war, just 14 months after the first battle at Lexington and Concord. The war would continue for another seven years. Indeed, the Declaration does not mark a moment of triumph or victory but rather the beginning of a great struggle.
But that’s what patriotism is about really, at least to me. It’s not about celebrating achievements and resting contentedly on our laurels, but rather honoring the effort and sacrifices that went into those triumphs. Patriotism is about the struggle, not the reward. July 4th is not about saying “The US is the best and is stronger than everyone else,” but instead “I believe in this country and will do all I can to make it the best it can be.” Independence Day is a day to reflect on the ideals and values of this country and to renew our commitment to defend and fight for those beliefs. Patriotism is standing up for what you believe in. If you disagree with what the government is doing, it is your duty to speak up. If you agree with what the government is doing, it is your duty to speak up.
The 2016 election and resulting political environment in the United States has been one of polarization and divisiveness. I have seen people on both the right and the left, pro-Trump and anti-Trump, accuse each other of being unpatriotic as a result of their views. I’m here to tell you that both sides have their patriots. I have seen Trump supporters express their views with passion, intensity, and intelligence (more often than many would have you believe), and I have seen the same from anti-Trump activists (again, more often than many would have you believe). These are our patriots. I have also seen, as I am sure you have as well, members of both camps demonize, belittle, and dismiss their opposition, usually in an incoherent and bellicose manner. Is this patriotic? Freedom dies only when we stop listening to one another.
Ask yourself, who in Syria, in that great and terrible conflict, are the patriots? Is it the rebels, fighting for a free and democratic Syria? Or is it the loyalists, defending their government? Indeed, there is no easy answer. Both sides have their patriots and both sides their war lords and profiteers. The Syrian War began because the regime refused to engage with society and allow a discussion. The everyday man has since been forced to choose a side. He may not agree with the regime, but may see it as preferable to, and healthier for the country than, the likely chaos following its collapse. Or, he may feel that that disorder is an acceptable risk for the promise of freedom and democracy. Who is more patriotic? Both do what they feel is best for their country.
This Independence Day, be thankful for those who disagree with you. Be thankful that there are people in this country with the courage to fight for what they believe, even if it is not what you believe. Be thankful that you live in a country that allows this kind of discourse, a country that does not force you to choose between stability and freedom, between your life and your voice. Engage with one another, and remember to do so with respect and dignity. Stand up for what you believe in, and applaud others who do the same. Revel in your freedom but remember that a patriot’s work is never done. There is always another battle to be fought. Remember that patriotism is about the struggle, and cherish your opposition for it would not be a struggle without them.