Fourth of July

This may be an Independence Day largely without fireworks – Cortez seems to be the exception – but there is still no shortage of ways to celebrate the Fourth of July. And that is fitting, because despite the indisputable problems facing the United States, an honest appraisal of the state of the nation would suggest that Americans still have plenty of reason to celebrate.

By its very nature, news is often bad. No one reports the planes that do not crash, the highway accidents avoided or the troops resting safe and sound. Moreover, what with high unemployment, a changed and still-struggling economy, and our dysfunctional politics, there is no shortage of bad news.

But the real story of the Fourth of July is that 236 years after declaring its independence, the United States is probably the most successful nation in human history.

That goes beyond wealth and power. This country is a continent-wide empire with a global reach. It has been absorbed for several decades in expanding the rights of many of its citizens, as well as making its environment cleaner and healthier, and its society more civil – all the while maintaining a remarkable level of individual liberty.

Are there also darker trends at work and problems to address? Of course. Is the direction the country has taken arguable? Certainly, and always. In a democracy, there is no end to arguing.

But consider what just three of those arguments are about. There is our continuing involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the question of what to do about illegal immigration, and – the big one this week – the president’s plan for health-care reform.

All are contentious, divisive and serious. But how many people in human history have been able to talk back to their leaders and openly question the conduct and purpose of a war? What is wrong with a national debate in which the central issue is how best to provide health care to everyone? And what does it say about a nation when one of its biggest problems is that too many people like and admire it enough to want to move there?

Debate is the soul of democracy, but there is also a time to celebrate. As bad as things sometimes seem, as a nation, our glass is more than half full.

Happy Independence Day.

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