Friday, July 04, 2003


My big problem in adult life is that I take our nation’s sacred principles seriously.

Long ago, when I was eight, America celebrated its bicentennial. The entire year was festive. Neighborhoods painted fire hydrants to look like minutemen. The stars and stripes were everywhere, on hats, shirts, cars, billboards, and banners. The presidential election race was in full swing. They showed us Johnny Tremain movies at school. Television was particularly patriotic that year: the “Bicentennial Minute” seemed to always be on, giving viewers quick blurb American history lessons. “Schoolhouse Rock” taught me to sing about both the Preamble to the Constitution and the legislative process—“I’m just a bill…and I’m sittin’ here on Capitol Hill.” Captain Kirk loudly revealed, on a rerun of the Star Trek episode, “The Omega Glory,” that “we the people” means “EVERYONE!” (You’ve just got to download this audio file!)

1976 was the year that I first developed a concept of what it means to be an American. I learned that we are the people of freedom. I learned that we are the people of justice. I learned that we are the people of democracy. I guess I’ve never really gotten over the glorification of the simple precepts for which our country supposedly stands. I still believe what I learned twenty-seven years ago: America is great because of its values.

Since then, it seems like so many of my countrymen have been trying to convince me that, even though we are, indeed, the people of freedom, justice, and democracy (God bless America, and all that, you know), these principles do not really mean what I originally believed them to mean:

“Oh yeah, we’re free, but those weirdos just can’t run around doing blah, blah, blah.”

“Well, I’m for justice, but we really can’t let all these criminals keep using their rights to yadda, yadda, yadda.”

“Sure, this is a democracy, but most people just don’t understand what’s best for the country, and blather, blather, blather.”

“I just don’t want to be killed by terrorists; I don’t want to die.”

In 2003, freedom, justice, and democracy seem to be hollow platitudes to which Americans simply give lip service. Today, freedom means the right to choose Coke or Pepsi. Justice means revenge and war. Democracy means…I’m not sure what democracy means today—I do know that it does not mean “government by the people.”

Today, I will try to forget, if only for a few hours, the forces that are trying to eradicate the great principles upon which our nation was founded. Today, I will try to imagine America as it should be, as it was intended to be. Today, I will celebrate America, the idea, as I understand it, the America that I love. Today, I will celebrate the real America.

And tomorrow? Well, I think that President Lincoln best described what Americans must do tomorrow and every day in his 1863 Gettysburg Address:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Happy Independence Day.

Thanks to Star Trek in Sound and Vision