Independence Day is the only holiday that celebrates the United States of America. While it technically commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the truth is that today, families and friends across America will charcoal-grill, sunbathe and set aflame powder in honor of our democratic republic.
Let no one say otherwise that the United States' model of government is a shining example of that great, continuing social experiment that values equality above all else.
It is true that the stewards of that model have not always enjoyed the easy tonic of popular approval. Even the most revered of our historical political leaders (think John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan) have faced fierce, vocal critics in their time. Those critics voiced legitimate perspectives, giving birth to previously unimagined agreements with a harmony that showcased the very best of competing ideals.
Therein lies the prized success of the model and the true meaning of independence, freedom of thought and expression. Natural laws are inked upon the canvas of the people only when writ large on parchment and memorized by schoolchildren.
Social critics have always had their supporters, the mythic (though waning) counterculture. But far more frequently, the antihero suffers the slings and arrows which accompany resistance of conformity. Even at the start of the Revolutionary War, most Americans favored remaining subjects of the monarch. What was labeled high treason then is now sacrosanct, the freedom of speech. The antihero became hero.
Thus, when the weekend patriot cries "America, right or wrong," it rings hollow to the true idealist. This seems far more grand a praise: America, when right to be celebrated; when wrong to be put right again.
It is gloriously American to press our government leaders into greater service to our fellow man by speaking out against injustice wherever it is found. If you remain neutral, then you have sided with the oppressor. The mouse whose tail is stepped on by the elephant cares not that you are neutral, Mandela wrote from his prison cell.
Even in the new millennium, not every American experiences freedom and equality in quite the same way. Some have never experienced it at all. Many human beings outside of our borders have no hope of experiencing it.
Simply being aware of that fact, just our empathy, is not enough. The essential duty of our government model is to ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It is the duty of every facet of our society. It is a duty which never ceases, and which knows no boundaries.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.
This Independence Day celebrate our progress. Rest and recharge, understanding there is more work to be done. Tomorrow, find a way to lend your voice to keeping the promise our forefathers made to this nation.
Know that we will never be finished painting the masterpiece that is America and take comfort in this assurance from author Basil King: "Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid!" That is the greatness of America.
Arturo Corso is a Gainesville attorney and a frequent contributor to The Times.