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Some Thoughts for the Fourth of July

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Greetings from New Jersey, where I’m spending the holiday with a friend and her family. We’re looking forward to a fun Independence Day, and I hope you are as well.

As longtime readers know, each year on this date I try to find an image that captures America in a nutshell (here are the ones from 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008). So what’s the story behind this year’s image of an elderly, wheelchair-bound man backdropped by American flags? Bear with me as I try to explain.

Back in April, I wrote about how my 99-year-old mom doesn’t have a great quality of life and is pretty much ready to let go. I thought about that a lot as Uni Watch girl mascot Caitlin’s health declined over the past month or so. Much like my mom, Caitlin was very old (almost old as my mom, in cat years) and had reached the point where daily life was more of a burden than a pleasure. In Caitlin’s case, I had the capacity to do something about that, so I did.

I was thinking about that the other day and it occurred to me that America is, in some ways, a lot like my mom and Caitlin. We are the world’s oldest democracy (or, if you prefer, we have the world’s oldest constitution), and that age is showing. Our national framework increasingly feels creaky and outdated, and our institutions feel sclerotic and dysfunctional. Few people would say that the state of our national civic health is good, and many might say that, much like my mom, we’re stuck inside a vessel that feels like it’s deteriorating and spent.

Obviously, we can’t just euthanize the country like I did for Caitlin, or have the country die in its sleep like my mom wishes she could do (and after reading a lot about the idea of a “national divorce,” as some have advocated, I’ve concluded that it isn’t feasible). So it appears that America, much like my mom, will just have to limp along in a diminished state and make the best of it.

So that’s the story behind the photo. I realize it’s not exactly the happiest message for Independence Day (sorry about that), but that’s what’s been on my mind lately — thanks for letting me share it with you.

But hey, if we can’t have national unity, we can at least enjoy the holiday that marks our separation from the British crown. So please accept my sincere best wishes for a happy Fourth of July. I’ll be busy today, but the comments are open, so feel free to chat among yourselves. If you have a few minutes, I heartily recommend reading the Declaration of Independence, whose ratification is what we’re celebrating today. (Here’s a typeset version, in case you can’t decipher the handwriting.)

If you’re traveling today, travel safe. If you’re playing with pyrotechnics, don’t pull a Jason Pierre-Paul. If you’re working, thanks for keeping the world spinning while the rest of us get to enjoy a day off. And if you’re spending the day in the company of a Britisher, kindly pass along my annual Independence Day rallying cry: In your face, Redcoats!Paul

Comments (48)

    Good piece. As turbulent as things are, we have the capacity to be better. This country was founded as a radical sociological experiment, not tried in a world run by kings and emperors. Mistakes have been made but we have gotten it right more than not. If we could all take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we’d realize that we have more common with each other than we don’t. If we would stop allowing the entities who profit off of hatred and division to control the narrative, we could work this out. We’re all on the same team and part of the same extended family. We can, and should, disagree at times but it doesn’t mean we’re not all in this together.
    Happy 4th, all.

    I have often said to anyone willing to listen, Paul, that America’s problem is that it’s too old. The founding fathers did not envision a society where our best and brightest minds would opt for jobs in the private sector. Public service is left to the kind of people who don’t mind having reporters root through their garbage or lurk in their bushes. Namely, psychopaths and media whores. Not a pretty picture.

    It’s mostly nonsense. The founding fathers didn’t envision a country with so many public servants. Government (and taxes) were small. The best and brightest were supposed to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They were not supposed to be on a bloated government payroll.

    I’ve worked in the public sector for a decade, and no one has rooted through my trash, as far as I know. And I’ve never met a single colleague who wants attention. In fact, a great fear of most of us is having our name in the news. Public service attracts a ton of people who could make more elsewhere but choose to serve their country.

    A common mistake many make is to confuse the politicians with the government.

    Good on you, sir. I wish more of our elected officials would follow your example!

    I have been a public school teacher for 25 years and agree 100%. A teacher in the news is rarely a good thing outside of a local feel good story. Just like there is a difference between the “media” and the “Media,” there is a difference between the “government” and the “Government.”

    As a public and private sector employee at different times in my career, this post is garbage and emblematic of the binary thinking that has destroyed discourse.

    The Earth is much older but, much like America, until we find something better we should probably just maintain the health of what we have instead of trying to tear it down or restructure it for something that may not be better

    Sobering but excellent post. Perhaps I am just an optimist, but I don’t think we “…have to limp along in a diminished state and make the best of it.” Maybe it is just the civic mindedness instilled in me since my youth, but we all have the ability and obligation to help turn the tide.
    There is more we have in common compared to things we bicker about. Paul, I’d challenge you to challenge your fellow journalists to do something about this. As has been pointed out so often here, the state of journalism is mostly in the dumpster due to the click(or views)/profit model out there now. What gets those clicks are headlines that strike at our emotions, and more often than not they try to create outrage. Read Matt Taibbi’s excellent book Hate Inc to better understand the problem.
    We are in a bad way right now, and media companies intentionally trying to get us angry at each other doesn’t help. Turn off the cable news, avoid your favorite editorial-as-news publications for a few weeks, you’ll probably feel a lot better, and rediscover the mutual bonds we all share.

    Good post, Greg!

    I’m more of an optimist as well. Our country has been through challenging times before, and we rise above and grow stronger. We’re not perfect. We’ve made progress. We have more work to do. We’ll get there.

    Wishing everyone the best today!

    absolutely. while paul’s piece is poignant, and does put a finger on the current pulse of the USA, a country is not a person. a person, a cat, they have life expectancies. it’s foolish to believe that anything can live forever – although there are some tech companies and auto makers that are convinced they are the exception, i’m sure – but the truth is that democracy, politics, economy, and culture are more akin to machines. they can be fixed, changed, and updated almost endlessly. there are many countries and cultures in this world that have come to these kinds of changes by violent, or terrifying means, the US included, and if the will of the people is strong enough, the country comes out the other side stronger and, hopefully, having learned some lessons. as a whole, we in the US are generally not good at learning macro-level lessons, or at least we are not good at applying what we learn in those cases, but that is an addressable problem. i won’t hazard to name any of the problems that specifically plague this country. as with many countries throughout history, our problems are not few, and there is no general consensus as to what those problems are or how to fix them. some of our problems may not even be fixable, but we need not limp along until our ultimate demise just yet. go boldly into the future, face change and growth with welcoming arms, though it may be painful, and know that while there is always much to lose, there is so much to gain as well.

    People confuse the age of the country with the age of the principles upon which it was founded…and they can Never grow old.
    Paul’s recommendation to read the Declaration is because how relevant it still is.
    Pessimism grows when the government strays from those original principles.
    Good people are our real country, America, and I have faith in them…not political institutions that stray from America’s founding principles. Thank you for the kind words, Truly Happy Independence Day to Y’all

    The beauty of America is that it has, can, and will adapt with the times. Having traveled across the country numerous times to numerous locations, the vast majority of people are good and honest. Our founding documents make it clear that the people and the soul of the nation will endure.

    I find myself less thinking about it as an American problem and more something global. I appreciate the ‘dying’ metaphor because much like death is inevitable, I think what we are going through is inevitable. But not necessarily because America is old or outliving its constitutional ideals or is dying. I believe it is more likely global and more likely due to things like hungry people, wider gaps between rich and poor, technology-driven change and our ability to adapt, whatever you want to call the ongoing impact of humans on their environment (not talking global warming here, but a much bigger view of living things competing with each other–however we have all come into being, it has a big element of destruction/rebirth to it, seemingly by design). I wind up concluding that this isn’t new, it isn’t unique to a country or a philosophy of government or smart vs. dumb or greed or any of the other contributing factors (or perhaps these are more the symptoms and not the cause). It is simply inevitable for whatever the reasons. And we are stuck in it. On the plus side, America has been resilient through a couple of these periods. So, I do hope that we have the ability to come through it on the other end okay. But I also recognize that none of it is guaranteed, and it would be naive to assume otherwise. Thanks for that Paul! Happy stinkin’ fourth to you too!!

    National unity has been worse in the past like during the Civil War. Issue today is the political class sows division for their own power. In this regard, you are totally correct with your piece. The issue, to me, isn’t the people but a system exploited by monied interests that control the politicians. Who speaks for We The People anymore? In the end, it is We The People, who have more in common than we realize, that need to retake power through unity and not let politicians keep stoking division.

    Just my views. I’m sure there is disagreement and that’s fine.

    Why do you think any of that is new? There have always been Americans encouraging division. Why are they more successful at some times than at others? Why do we lump every radical into “encouraging division” when some want division in order to create a critical mass for egalitarian reform, but others want division to be a permanent tribal conquest by a Master Race? Those are nothing alike. I’m sick of the moral equation of those willing to fight for less inequality with those willing to fight for the restoration of our country’s worst crimes.

    Why? That’s fairly easy: social media. In the past, there were few sources of information. Media was viewed as a public trust, and the sources of information were considered generally unimpeachable. The lunatic fringe was a small minority and could not disseminate their views to the masses very easily. Today, everyone has the power to shout into the ether and be heard, but it is that same vocal minority grabbing all the attention, getting all the clicks, and reaching new listeners. Suddenly, the fringes realize they aren’t all isolated within their physical communities and they can connect even though they may be thousands of miles apart and never would have met in real life in the old society.

    Wonderful piece Paul!

    Any idea when you’ll be writing up about the Kings new unis? Probably after they officially unveil their alternates, correct?

    I saw them on a realgm post, including the (hopefully accurately) leaked one that will release tomorrow. Looking forward to the thoughts of the comm-uni-ty! link

    Eh the U.S. might be in a rough patch at the moment but there’s no place I’d rather live. We should take today to celebrate how just how great this crazy experiment called the USA is.

    Great post! I’m trying to fight my pessimism by enjoying some afternoon baseball and grilled meats.

    I’d like to remind everyone who is concerned about the state of the country, that one hundred and sixty years ago today. a small town of 2500 people in Pennsylvania had to deal with over 30,000 people who had been shot and were now all over the place either dead or wounded. There were over 10,000 dead horses, and numerous wrecked farm fields which meant a very lean winter for many. It was said that you could find the town for the next few weeks by the stench. Seven-five thousand armed men had attacked, trying to cut off Washington DC from the rest of the country. Four months later, at the dedication of a newly created cemetery, a famous orator got up and spoke for nearly two hours. Then the president, who was sort of a last -minute invite, spoke for two minutes. “Four score and seven years ago…” If this country can survive that, what is going on now is minor.

    Sometimes countries don’t collapse over the big things, but over an accumulation of little things. Wars, primarily against other nations, can unify a country despite horrible sacrifices. Waiting in line to buy something we feel entitled to can tear a country apart.

    Thus the USSR survived its government’s murder of tens of millions of its own people followed by a comparable number by foreign invaders. But it couldn’t survive losing 15,000 guys in Afghanistan and Russian pride being bruised by watching “lesser” societies pass them by.

    I feel like our country in the media and social media is very fractured, however out and about in real life interactions are still cordial and polite and friendly.

    Removing social media and cable news as much as possible helps me remember what’s most important for me and my family; the people in my community still care for each other and we are doing a lot better than the internet tells you.

    Happy 4th everyone!

    I am disappointed to see such a dour, discouraging post written on the 4th of July. This day is the best day on the calendar for our Nation. What those Patriots suffered for us 247 years ago should always be honored, cherished, and recounted for every single person who lives here and passed down from generation to generation. No matter what is going on in the world, no American should ever forget what an honor it is to live in this country. We are all lucky to live here. Millions around the globe either wish to live here or have already made plans to immigrate here. America as a Nation has its ups and downs, but it is the shining beacon for the world and none of us should ever lose sight of that.

    Paul, whatever cloud you have over your head today, I request that you read this passage below. This was sent to me by a friend of mine earlier today:

    Michael W. Smith wrote this moving account of the fate that befell many of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence:

    Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? link

    Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

    Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the revolutionary war.

    They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

    What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

    Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

    Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

    Vandals or soldiers or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

    At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

    Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

    John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

    Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: ‘For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.’”

    What about the billions around the globe who have no wish or plans to live there? What about those who disagree vehemently that “it is the shining beacon for the world”?

    Shining beacon of what exactly?

    WIth regard to the first comment on the public sector, having worked in the public, private and not for profit sectors (hat trick?) I can second the notion that many dedicated people serve the public.

    Do take inspiration from the above post if you wish, and we face challenges as Franklin anticipated (“a republic, if you can keep it”). But the piece does have numerous misrepresentations: link Sorry to be pedantic, but a well-informed citizenry is a good thing. Happy 4th!

    Paul, thanks. It is always good to pause and reflect. Are you able to share any of the story of the man in the photo? Was this a photo found related to a news story? Have you shared photo credits for past July 4 posts?

    It’s honestly not that divided if you just delete your social media accounts and block out your cable news channels. Most people are just living their lives, they’re not super progressive and no super conservative. Extreme division is a narrative, don’t fall for it.

    America is not perfect; there is no perfect place. But I am glad to call it home. I can’t think of any country where I’d rather live.

    My picture of America is two dutch braids sitting in a Miata, drinking a Mountain Dew with a dog in the othe seat. God Bless America and Happy Birthday!

    Thanks Paul. I think there are some that just want to celebrate America and ignore our mistakes and flaws, and there are some who just want to criticize America and point out all our faults and problems. I try to appreciate our country, but also understand our flawed history. I also realize that what our founding fathers (who were all flawed men to varying degrees) gave us were ideals to strive for, though not yet achieved.

    Hope you had a good 4th of July, celebrate it as much as you like, but I am happy to live in another country which does not need to celebrate an Independence Day. We have a king who is controlled and overruled by a chosen parliament and yes, we do celebrate his birthday, but it does not have this strained feeling that Independence Day has to me. Speaking of Kings, I love their new uniforms!

    And yes, I agree that you have a very old democracy and that struggling free from being a colony was a courageous act and a hopeful start for a new country without tyranny. And that things have gone wrong in the democratic process and that it is not easy to repair it in the current political and socio-economic climate. To a lesser degree we suffer from the same problems in my country: when it rains in the United States it starts to drip in my country. Greetings from your devoted Orangecoat (not a Redcoat): we gave up New Amsterdam without a fight (and got Surinam in return, forever traders and not fighters).

    Thank you for this Paul, it’s one of the things I look forward to every 4th of July.

    And what do you suggest to replace this “imperfect” Union? A “perfect”, communist, socialist utopia?

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