The best of America

It’s hard to reflect on the significance of Independence Day in 2017 without dragging a lot personal feelings about the president into the mix.

That’s a shame, even though it’s quite understandable. When we think of the momentous occasion of declaring our freedom — paving the way for the codification of personal liberty and the invention of whole new way of governing (by and for the people) — the turbulence of an unconventional presidency can make everything we’ve achieved since then feel tenuous.

Which is ridiculous, of course. We’ve weathered everything under the sun to get here — slavery, civil war, world wars, economic upheaval, internment, institutional racism, civil strife, a Cold War, terrorism, and on and on.

From this perspective, it’s hard to believe that a president with a penchant for insults will be America’s undoing. Yes, it’s troubling to many people that our president seems more concerned about what cable TV show hosts are saying about him than, say, fixing health care.

But whether his behavior is beneath the dignity of the office — as many critics on both the left and the right have proclaimed — it’s worth remembering that We the People retain the power to make America as great — or as awful — as we want it to be.

Unfortunately, we’re having trouble arriving at a consensus about what made America great to begin with, much less how to make improvements.

That “more perfect union” for which the Constitution was ordained to achieve remains within our grasp, however. That’s what makes this day so special. We remember the long odds our founding fathers faced to bring their grand experiment to life. They brought different ideas to the table about what we should do with our new-found liberty, should it be won. But they put those differences aside for the cause of liberty itself.

Contrast that with the dysfunction in Washington, D.C. — regardless of who’s president. Obstructionism has displaced compromise as the political currency of the day. In many ways President Trump is a symptom, not a cause, of this dysfunction.

Nevertheless, he’s the face of America. Our freedoms give us the right to disagree with the president and criticize him without fear of government reprisal. The tent-pole of the Constitution is free speech, which is supposed to foster the honest debate so critical to self-rule.

As awkward as this process can seem when a president won’t stand for any coverage or comments he finds unflattering, this tension is a sign that America is alive and well.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to make President Trump’s discomfort with the power of the First Amendment a cause for celebration on the Fourth of July.

But our hard-fought freedoms have a contradictory quality. Just as the flag itself stands for the right to burn the flag, the president should welcome criticism as a hallmark of America’s greatness.


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