When the United States championed democracy, freedom, and opportunity, it made sense to celebrate the Fourth of July. But are we still promoting those values? If we are paragons of neither opportunity nor freedom, what exactly do we celebrate today?
Our Statue of Liberty bears an inscription welcoming the world’s “tired and poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Our open arms which once greeted strangers (on whose backs our country was built), however, have been replaced by laws like Arizona’s SB 1070, copycat laws around the country, and the recent Supreme Court decision upholding provisions that encourage racial profiling.
Liberty itself is a fading memory, a lyric in an anthem that few Americans today understand, even as millions sing it at sporting events and during today’s holiday.
Robert Samuelson’s Is the U.S. a land of liberty or equality? reviews a duality within America’s political culture. Samuelson writes that “Americans’ self-identity springs from the beliefs on which this country was founded,” including values of equality and liberty that often stand in tension. He correctly notes that “in today’s politically poisoned climate, righteousness is at a premium and historical reality at a discount,” which in turns helps “explain why love of country has become a double-edged sword, dividing us when it might unite.”
While Samuelson’s observation of political dysfunction is compelling, his analysis is flawed. It examines a conflict between two values, neither of which is visible in today’s United States.