The single biggest mistake we make as Americans is setting up our political arguments as games, games where there is a winner and a loser. Now, we know that's how elections work, but campaigns and governing are not the same. In campaigns, because none of have the wisdom (or perhaps cynicism) of Solomon, we must pick a winner and a loser. Vote counts matter.
But in governing, vote counts should be forgotten. Who can say who as a mandate, unless you reach into the minds of every voter and sort it out. So, in governing, what must occur is a process of prioritizing first what are the problems (Identification), and then discussing the possible solutions (Engagement) and then, discerning how the solutions proposed work or dont work, and the consequences, real and unintended, play out (Compromise), and then, putting those solutions to work. (Implementation).
In this country, though, we have another step, one that is often lost. That is Assessment. We have a duty and long history, of re-examining our collective policies. And our mistakes. Find me another country so open about our past mistakes, our past wrong, our past atrocities. We may recoil from our study of Native American genocide, our horrid tradition of slavery, our discrimination of women, early immigrants, Japanese-Americans, and the current rhetoric about Muslims, but in each of those areas, there has developed a deep and rich field of history that does that each and every day.
We are unified as Americans not because we are the best, but because we have a open process where we can, and are expected to dissent and to criticize the worst behavior among us. The freedoms we have are not inevitable, and always came at the expense of someone or some group. And they are themselves writ across the discrimination of many.
So today, I will celebrate the fourth, not because we declared our freedom, but because the fourth came only after the war had begun, and after the Revolutionary Americans had come to understand that only by becoming something new and apart from the English royal system could they begin to achieve their dreams. Begin. Not end.
The fourth was the signal moment when we realized that the fight was ours and would be long, deadly and permanent.
Perhaps we have lost that, but I remain optimistic. I am a historian, not because I want to celebrate our victories, but because I have an obligation to remind us of our failures, of our faults.
I never learned anything worth remembering from my successes; but I've never forgotten anything I've ever learned from my failures.
Happy Fourth y'all and God (in any manifestation you chose to believe or not believe in) bless American, right and wrong.