There is no better time to ponder our American life than on the Fourth of July. Here in Madison, it is warm and beautiful. We never look and feel better than we do on the Fourth.
And it’s OK, despite our warts, to celebrate the notion of American exceptionalism. Not with bluster and bullying, but with earned pride and a dose of humility on the side.
Since America’s inception, the world has seen our nation as something special; a country with vast space and resources, with a spirit that celebrates freedom in all its forms.
But on this Fourth of July, a cloud hangs over our land and spirit. In an election that can only be seen as aberrant, we elected a man who does not see America as a shining light on a hill, or a nation of hope and change, but rather a failed country that is a disaster and wasteland, filled with citizens full of anger and fear.
In fact, fear is what this president has peddled to gain power. The Aberrant One hawked a fear of science, fear of a free press, fear of the immigrant class from which most of us came, and most awfully, fear of each other, all the way to the most powerful chair in the world.
And what is even more appalling—he did it with no true understanding of who we are, where we came from and how our great nation operates in the world.
The Aberrant One wants us to be afraid. He needs us to be fearful.
But what he doesn’t understand is that we are a country that has stood up to fear since our earliest days, and never once blinked.
The Aberrant One wants us to panic when a deranged terrorist in London, espousing a warped view of religion, drives a van into a group of people and tragically kills a handful of them. Immediately, the small man tweets panic to the world. Why? He must stoke that weak flame of fear he has created. When a mad dog in Manchester sets off a bomb amid school girls at a concert, the Aberrant One doesn’t see an opportunity to stand tall, he sees a chance to spook the global herd.
But the tiny man knows so little about the free people of America and the world, and what we have endured.
America survived a Civil War that killed 620,000 combatants and another 50,000 civilians. Not only did our country survive, we soon became a global power.
America lost 116,000 men on the European fields of World War I, while the world lost some 17 million people. Yet the democracies of the world prevailed.
In the next war, America sacrificed nearly a half million brave warriors, while the world lost 50-80 million souls. Great men like Roosevelt and Churchill guided the world through those dark years, not with the whine of panic and pettiness but with words of resolve and courage.
And for perspective on the latest acts of terror, our ally England lost around 67,000 civilians to German bombs. And yet the Allies defeated the Nazi regime, themselves the greatest aberration of modern history.
In the ensuing years, America has faced terrorism everywhere; in Beirut, Tehran, Benghazi, and in the heart of New York City, yet combined, the losses we have endured don’t match the losses of just three days at Gettysburg. In that war, Abraham Lincoln used his words not to pull us apart, but to bring freedom to slaves, honor to the dead of both sides and urge healing without retribution. It is an insult to our history for the current occupant of the White House to tweet fear from the office where Lincoln created the consoling words for the Gettysburg address.
But here is the good news: America isn’t very good at being afraid. Being brave is what we do; on the battlefield, in the courts and with each other.
So when the exploding red white and blue lights shine down on us all, no matter how we vote, remember that we have always figured out a way to make America a little better with each generation. And we don’t do it out of fear. We do it because we love freedom for ourselves and others.
And that is why, warts and all, we are the greatest country in the world.
Now will someone please light some big-ass fireworks?
Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at email@example.com.