Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4

Jay Leno had a recurring skit where he asked questions to passers-by on the street--questions most people think are rather simple and obvious. He asked several people what the Fourth of July celebrated, when independence was declared and who the country separated from. Of course the results were embarrassing to most of those interviewed. One was particularly interesting. A college instructor knew nothing about the Revolution at all, thought it occurred in the 1920's and thought China might have been involved.

A survey published recently said that 27% of people questioned did not know the American Revolution was waged against the British.

When I was a child in the 50's, the Fourth of July was a great event. The kids decorated their bikes, small local parades were held--every community had some commemoration and the larger communities had fireworks. It was unlike other secular events like Thanksgiving which were delightfully family oriented; this was a commonly held social event. It was a birthday party. And it was heartfelt. Everyone felt that years ago something of value had been accomplished, something special in the world created. There was a glow.

When Obama was first campaigning he was asked about American Exceptionalism. (The phrase was de Tocqueville's, from Democracy in America, 1835: "The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one. Their strictly Puritanical origin, their exclusively commercial habits, even the country they inhabit, which seems to divert their minds from the pursuit of science, literature, and the arts, the proximity of Europe, which allows them to neglect these pursuits without relapsing into barbarism, a thousand special causes, of which I have only been able to point out the most important, have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American upon purely practical objects. His passions, his wants, his education, and everything about him seem to unite in drawing the native of the United States earthward; his religion alone bids him turn, from time to time, a transient and distracted glance to heaven. Let us cease, then, to view all democratic nations under the example of the American people.")

The phrase has been used since by those who saw America as a point of reference in man's search for freedom and liberty. (It was also used by Stalin as a slur, decrying America's self-held belief that it was somehow excluded from the Marxian class warfare generality.) Obama saw a trap--it would not do to talk of "exceptionalism" when we want all people to be the same, all nations indistinguishable. So he hedged and said, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." He, unlike those Americans of just a generation or two ago, does not think that America is unique.

Unique. If that element is lost in this country a lot has been lost. So, buy a small flag. Decorate your bike.

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