Americans are divided as ever as they celebrate the nation’s birthday. On health care, immigration, taxes - and certainly the president himself - Americans of all stripes are hardening their views, taking sides in the run-up to the 2020 election and generating more heat than light about the future. Yet the Independence Day holiday is a moment to step back and remember an over-arching truth: There is more that unites this melting pot than divides it. And channeling that pride and understanding of country can help reaffirm American values.
For many, the Fourth of July is a welcome break from work and routine — a day at the beach, an outdoor barbecue, an afternoon of baseball, bands and parades and soaring fireworks over the nighttime sky. The Fourth has a rhythm, backdrop and caloric intake of its own, which itself is an expression of the joy Americans have in sharing experiences, following tradition and demonstrating they belong to something much larger than their own communities and personal silos.
Nothing has tested that unity more in recent days than the heartbreaking photograph of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, floating face down in the Rio Grande after drowning only feet from reaching the American shore. The tragedy helped break a deadlock in Congress over a border aid package, which had already mushroomed into a political crisis after children were found held in immigration facilities without adequate food, water, beds or even soap.
The situation at the border is a national disgrace. And it begs the question on our nation’s birthday of what constitutes being an American. The Founding Fathers addressed this, in part, in the Declaration of Independence. Many Americans know the signature line — that all men are created equal, and endowed with certain unalienable rights, “among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But in their list of grievances, the patriots went further, denouncing King George III expressly for having “endeavoured to prevent the population of these states” and for blocking naturalization laws to discourage “migrations hither.”
The U.S. Supreme Court even touched on the matter last week. While the court ruled it would be constitutional for the government to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, the 5-4 majority held that the Trump administration could not contrive a rationale for making it happen. This blow for truth, the law and transparency showed that noncitizens matter in America’s democratic system.
Most Americans view immigration positively; three-fourths of respondents to a recent Gallup poll described immigration as good for the country. For the first time, a majority of Americans say immigrants mostly help the economy - an uptick that began after President Donald Trump took office. And while the United States still struggles with a surge of Central American refugees at the border, Gallup found that the portion of Americans favoring an increase in immigration has risen steadily the past two decades.
This holiday is a time not to redefine what being an American means but to reaffirm it. With an administration that confuses unilateralism with leadership, it’s worth remembering that the American experience, as with most nations, is a borrowed one. The threats, dangers and phobias this country has overcome in its young history have shaped a grit in America and an image abroad that inspires hope and democracy. That’s been a hard-won pedestal the United States should not relinquish.