Americans today are overdosing on the one thing America cannot survive: pessimism. There seems to be a feeling abroad – deeply felt if not always articulated – that things are bad and getting worse.
But if this nation can be defined in one word, it is optimism. It's what the country was founded on, what fueled its growth and development, what has shaped its beliefs and defined its values.
The people who made this nation, the writer Bernard DeVoto once noted, were neither visionairies nor utopians but realistic, hardheaded people “who understood the dynamics of freedom and saw that if they were loosed in an empty continent an augmentation would follow for which nothing in the past could be an adequate gauge. From then on not the past but the future has counted in the United States. If it doesn't work, try something else; tomorrow is another day; don't sell America short; the sky is the limit; rags to riches; canal-boat boy to president.”
But if optimism keeps us looking to tomorrow, pessimism is the nagging voice of dread that keeps us anchored to today or, worse, longing for yesterday. Afraid of a future we don't think we're up to, we doom ourselves to reliving past glories and, all too often, repeating past mistakes.
“The land of the free and the home of the brave,” it says in the national anthem. They go together. You can't truly be free – or at least it doesn't mean anything – unless you have the courage to try and fail and then try again.
That's the American story, and what we are really celebrating when we fly the flags on the Fourth of July. “Patriotism” shouldn't be just blind love of country, but trying to understand what this country is all about.
So wave the flags today not just with pride but with optimism. Not goofy faith in the face of dire misfortune, but with the belief that the people of this nation will always try for the best even when suffering the worst, with the prayer that we will always try to be better than we are.
With hope. If we don't have that, we don't deserve a country.
Let the Fourth of July be a “celebration of risk,” wrote Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News. “Grant the seriousness of the problems we face. Grant the inequalities that afflict many Americans. Now, as for the past two centuries and more, there is no guarantee that the United States will endure. But the chance of failure is a both a necessity and a goad. With all the dire critiques that can be leveled at our nation, there is still reason to celebrate.”
– Adapted from an editorial that ran on July 4, 1992 and still seems relevant today.