The trappings are in hand — hot dogs from Iowa, fireworks from China — but Americans may feel too exhausted this year to make a major fuss over Independence Day. Two wars, a recession that won't quit, the ongoing oil spill in the gulf and the insatiable appetite for divisiveness in Washington have sapped the nation's energy. But Americans should take a moment this holiday weekend and appreciate all that their young nation has accomplished. The world is too sorely in need of U.S. leadership for the nation to lose its mojo.
The last few years have been terrible for many Americans and hard for most. Peace and a strong economy seem almost foreign concepts that are, at best, years away. But Americans have always tended to view the crisis of the moment in unprecedented terms. That is partly the result of having just about 235 years of history to draw upon. But it also reflects why this nation has so much to celebrate. America's restlessness is a force that has brought about good for the world. And it has always bubbled up in even the worst of times.
America's history is not an entirely clean slate. The nation suffered terribly by assuming the European traditions of slavery and colonialism. Despite tremendous progress, minorities and women are still too often treated as second-class. The recession has also raised economic anxieties across the country and created renewed hostilities toward recent immigrants. America's appetite for guns and drugs destroys families here and abroad and undermines its moral authority in the world.
But history has a long arc, and over its brief reach in the states, America has shown its capacity to overcome the worst and push new frontiers. It roused itself from a depression to beat back Adolf Hitler. It put a man on the moon at the end of a decade that nearly tore the nation apart. Its federal government just embraced a plan to extend health care to all Americans. And for all the legitimate criticism of its missteps, the United States is still spilling blood trying to do right by the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The American astronaut Buzz Aldrin once said that, over time, "humanity aligns itself with things that work and discards things that don't." In that sense, this nation's history has been an incubator for human dignity and freedom across the globe. It is almost ironic that the world's preeminent power was founded on the basis of individual liberty. It certainly is hard to believe that these lofty ideals, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776, were taken on by a nation of 2.5 million people — about the population of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. So while there are some difficult clouds hanging over this July 4, the holiday is still something to celebrate. The nation has come a long way in a short period of time. And millions across the Earth want to hold our hands and replicate the experience.