Lost within the increasingly shrill debates about the President’s insistence that there be tanks on the Capitol Mall for the 4th of July, the childish rationalization by the St. Louis Park, Minnesota City Council to ban the Pledge of Allegiance and Saint Paul, Minnesota Mayor Melvin Carter’s petty decision to forego fireworks in the state’s Capitol City is this: American’s have a choice.
That’s right. Unlike Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and a list of other nations, Americans have a choice whether to accept the view of the world of these elected officials.
On this 4th of July one doesn’t have to work too hard to understand a galvanizing rationale for the birth of this nation was because those living in the colonies wanted a choice.
They wanted choices that an oppressive regime half-way across the world didn’t want to give them.
Those in the colonies wanted to decide what kind of government they would have — who would represent them in that government — how much government they would have — how much it would cost — and whether they would have the freedom to criticize that government without fear of reprisal.
Truth be told, they wanted other choices that, today, still tarnish the broad ideal of liberty and justice for all they espoused at the creation of America.
Murdering indigenous people and stealing their land, enslaving Africans and others to do their work and grow their own financial empires and deliberately choosing that men, not women, would guide this new nation’s path forward are a stain on this nation’s birthright.
Today, we find ourselves in an America stewing in these contradictions of what freedom and liberty meant then and what it should mean today.
On one hand, we celebrate the nation’s 1st Amendment, yet, social media has given us the hypocritical power to also express outrage when someone else expresses their 1st Amendment rights and we don’t like what they have to say.
Don’t get me started on the 2nd Amendment.
Other than to say that the nation’s Founders would be stunned to learn that nearly 13,000 Americans die as a result of gun violence every year compared to the total of 8,000 Americans who died as a direct result of the Revolutionary War.
I have no basis in fact for this belief, but I can only surmise that the tragic irony may indeed have many of them shaking their heads.
Still, I come back to the issue of choice.
Perhaps, more importantly, the freedom and liberty to have a choice at all.
A choice to change the direction of the country — at every level — or a choice to soak in our collective outrage and bitterness about our elected officials — our media — and, frankly, with one another.
We have a choice whether or not to buy Nike’s shoes after they made a choice — allegedly — to listen to the pique of a professional athlete whose worldview has been informed largely by himself and determined that one period of time’s flag represents something worse than another period of time in America.
Let’s be honest: Colin Kaepernick would have complained to Nike whether it was the Betsy Ross Flag — the current flag — or the flag that once had only 48 states depicted on it.
Let’s be equally honest: That’s his choice. And, it was Nike’s choice to listen to him. It’s also our choice to choose to buy their product or not based on their choice — or for some other reason entirely.
From big cities to small towns to expansive regional governments there’s not a single moment of a single day that any American doesn’t have a choice.
To the people we elected, the products we buy, the words we speak, the comments we post — or the absolute silence we exercise — we have a choice.
That’s what free people in a free country such as America have every single day.
Not because it’s neat, or cool, polite or convenient.
And, while it is neat and cool and polite, it certainly is not convenient.
It’s hard to live in a free country.
It’s hard because every single minute of every single day someone — somewhere — is trying like Hell to diminish it.
From outside the country it’s the Russians, the Chinese and others who still understand that the greatest threat to their oppressive rule is that someday enough of their people will say, “Screw you, I’m free!”
From inside our country, it’s ourselves.
It’s We, the People, who are the greatest threat to our freedom — our liberty — and to the choices we have to embrace them and celebrate them — or to allow ourselves to further diminish them.
Saying the Pledge of Allegiance — singing the National Anthem — buying a shoe with this flag or another flag or no flag — kneeling at a football game — or standing — supporting the President — opposing him — fireworks or not — none of these things, or any other things like them — make us more American or not than the other.
Our freedom to individually choose what kind of American we will be is what makes America so fundamentally different than any other nation on Earth.
American Exceptionalism is, and always has been, and always must be, rooted in American Individualism.
It’s our choice.