July 21, 2019

Missing the Patriotic Spirit on the Fourth of July

Photo by Pixababy

Last week, my husband and I were invited to join friends for the Fourth of July concert at the Hollywood Bowl. We were excited to see their spectacular fireworks show, choreographed to patriotic music on America’s birthday. We were delighted to join them. 

This year, the songs that celebrated our nation, including the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Captain America March,” and “America the Beautiful,” were the musical bookends to the main concert attraction, which was disco music played by the L.A. Philharmonic and led by Nile Rodgers and CHIC. 

The musicians were all phenomenal, of course, but it was the first time I attended the fabled amphitheater’s Independence Day program and felt disheartened. Looking around, it was clear that many in the audience seemed indifferent to the patriotic songs that opened the show. There was a lot of talking, and when the conductor encouraged everyone to offer thanks to various branches of the Armed Services, applause was tepid at best. 

Only when the orchestra played disco favorites including “Le Freak,” “Good Times,” and “Get Lucky” did the audience spring to life, singing along, often standing up to dance, and cheering boisterously after each song. I couldn’t help but think that many had only sat through “America the Beautiful” as the price to pay to get up and boogie to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” 

On Facebook, I posted my sentiments about the lack of patriotic feeling that evening. Almost instantly, fireworks of another kind erupted. Trump had ruined the Fourth of July, some people said, through his divisiveness and multiple other sins, which were listed with many exclamation points. These comments followed this year’s trend of surliness and bitterness about our nation’s birthday.  

Before it even took place, the Fourth of July Parade in Washington was ridiculed as a sop to Trump’s ego, even though instead, it saluted members of the Armed Forces, whose sacrifices ensure our safety. The presence of Army tanks was seen as a hint of Tiananmen Square, not simply a reassuring reminder that we remain militarily strong in a dangerous world. The New York Times offered a video op-ed titled, “Please Stop Telling Me America is Great.” And Nike gave the boot to a Betsy Ross-inspired sneaker, bowing to his Eminence Colin Kaepernick. 

I have lived through several presidential administrations led by men I abhorred for both political and personal reasons. But presidents come and go, while our country remains a miracle of opportunity and freedom that we dare not take for granted. For those who “celebrated” the Fourth by demonstrating at an ICE office, as one woman proudly proclaimed, what a missed opportunity to look for the good. It seems to me that people who refuse to find reason to celebrate our extraordinary country, with all it has offered to millions and millions of people fleeing oppression and limited opportunities, and who refuse to credit Trump for anything that he has achieved (full employment and rollicking economy, anyone?) disqualify them as honest debaters. 

Of course, belligerent and snide attitudes are a two-way street, promoted from both left and right. As Arthur Brooks notes in his new book, “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt”, no one has ever been convinced of an opposing view through insults. Brooks, a political conservative and a Catholic who directed the American Enterprise Institute for a decade, holds everyone accountable for divisive rhetoric and offers hope that person by person, we can find a common understanding. Compelling social science research shows that talking to people of opposing views face to face, not from the anonymity of social media, generates a feeling of shared humanity.  

Brooks’ new book is a bestseller, which is a hopeful sign, although with so many people in hardened positions, even having cut off relationships with friends and family, it will take bravery and humility to put his advice into practice. One can disagree without being disagreeable, Brooks says. When disagreement reflects the “competition of ideas” among people who share core moral values, it can even be productive. 

The encore song after the fireworks at the Bowl on July 4 was “Good Times,” and I hope it will be symbolic of our future, when there are more people determined to see the good in our national values and identity – and in one another.