This article is a reflection on Fourth of July, and specifically about what’s right about America as we celebrate national independence. But the ideas for it actually began taking shape this past Memorial Day weekend. And perhaps that’s fitting as well.
It was the Sunday just before Memorial Day. My wife had gotten off work early, and texted me on the ride home – “Let’s go to the beach!” I was wrapping up my last writing assignment for the day, it was a beautiful afternoon, and it seemed like the thing to do.
There’s something exhilarating all by itself about simply driving to the beach. Once there, we enjoyed a seafood dinner on the second-floor outdoor deck of a restaurant overlooking the beach and the ocean. The sounds of the waves hitting the beach, the screeches of sea gulls, and music from a two-piece band on the third-floor deck above provided a magical sound experience.
After dinner, we visited some shops along the boardwalk, taking in the throngs of people doing the same. We then wandered over to a free outdoor concert that would be followed by a free fireworks display. (In case you’re wondering why we didn’t go for a swim, it’s a Northern New England beach, and won’t be warm enough for swimming until the middle of July at best.)
Taking in all that was around – the music from the concert band, the chattering of the crowds of people, the sea gulls overhead, the crashing of the waves in the distance, the gentle breeze coming off the ocean, and the clear but salty scents drifting through the air with it – I realized this was one of those special, spontaneous moments in life, where you come face-to-face with the reality that alas, life is good!
The Special Moment that Produced Some Revelations
Now I didn’t say “life is perfect”, because that would be a gross exaggeration. Like every other year in my life, 2019 has been a year of ups and downs. On the downside, earlier this year we lost my mom and my closest aunt, eight days apart. More recently, both our kids moved out within 30 days of each other. There were some other sundry negative events I can hardly recall, but 2019 has been a hard year to take, and it’s only half over.
But while I was enjoying the concert at the beach, I reflected on other things that happened this year as well. Back in March, my wife and I took a trip to the Bahamas to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I was thankful for the trip and for the blessing of a successful marriage.
And though our kids were moving out, it’s a proud parent moment as well as an emotionally difficult one. After all, moving out is what adult kids are supposed to do. And as a result of them moving out, my wife and I bought a new used car (we don’t buy brand new cars anymore), a Toyota Rav4 that we absolutely love.
I was thinking of all that, along with the fact that we live not 40 minutes from the beach, that we live in a place we’ve specifically chosen, and that we both do work that we love.
Those many positive realizations got me to consider what’s right about America. Sure, there’s a lot wrong – and I discuss it often on this website. And while the grace of Almighty God and personal effort and determination certainly figure in the mix, so does the country where this is possible.
America certainly isn’t the only country in the world where so many good things can happen in a person’s life. But there are many more places where it’s unlikely to happen at all.
And that’s the part of America worth celebrating.
What’s Right About America this Fourth of July
Before getting into any of what’s good, let’s first list what’s not right about America this Fourth of July:
- A full blown healthcare crisis
- Crippling student loan debt
- Political paralysis
- Mass shootings
- A retirement/pension crisis
- Widespread under-employment
- Under-reported inflation causing people to feel poorer even as they make more money.
The purpose of this list of ills isn’t to give “equal time” to what troubles us. Rather it’s to emphasize how blessed and fortunate we are to live as well as we do despite the troubles that surround us. That’s the deepest revelation I had on that over-crowded evening at the beach that Sunday night before Memorial Day.
With that in mind, what’s right about America this Fourth of July? I came up with 16 “rights” – feel free to add more in the comments section.
1. We’re Still Free to Do What We Want on Any Given Day
At the beginning of this article I described how my wife texted me on the way home from work about going to the beach. It may seem like a small thing – so normal we don’t really think about it – but it’s more important than we realize.
Whether the reasons for that flexibility are personal, political, or legal, the reality is here in America we have a large measure of control over what we do each day. Whether that’s what we do in our occupations, or what we do in our spare time, it’s a freedom we don’t often appreciate. At least some element of each day is a blank canvas waiting for us to paint it.
2. We Can Choose Where We Live
America is one of the most geographically mobile societies in the world, with about 24% of the adult population moving each year.
Sometimes that’s done out of necessity, like following a job or moving closer to an ailing relative. But many times, it’s done by choice. My wife and I moved from New Jersey to Georgia, then from Georgia to New Hampshire. Both moves were made based on personal choice.
People do it all the time, like moving to a favorite beach or lake, or relocating for retirement. In much of the world, people live in the same town they grew up in all their lives. Often, for one reason or another, there’s simply no escape. We don’t usually have that constraint.
3. We Can Choose the Work We Do
The American employment scene often seems chaotic. And to be sure, millions of people are trapped somewhere in the dark crevices. But while the chaos creates employment traps, it also creates opportunities. Millions of people make intentional career choices each year, whether it’s to change jobs or change occupations. That’s a freedom most of us don’t fully appreciate, and not enough take full advantage of.
My wife and I have. We decided if we have to work all our lives, we’re going to do work we like. My wife works in the jewelry industry, because that’s her passion in life. After a lifetime career in banking, she made the change into jewelry on almost what seemed to be a whim. It’s turned out to be better than we ever expected.
Facing a career crisis more than a decade ago, I made a choice to go into blogging and eventually freelance blog writing. On the surface, a move like that looks like a flight of fancy. But I now earn more money – and enjoy more freedom and flexibility – than I have in any other career or job I’ve ever held. I have no background in either, but just made a choice and followed it through relentlessly.
If we lived in a Third World country, those kinds of choices might not exist. And that’s what we need to celebrate as Americans.
4. We Can Travel Throughout the Country and Even Outside the Country
Travel was once a privilege reserved for the wealthy. But today, even the middle class travels, whether domestically or internationally.
We certainly have the freedom to do so, but that choice is supported by an excellent network of interstate highways and affordable air travel. When I was a kid, most people might’ve flown once in their lives. Today, it’s not unusual for some the fly several times each year.
A lot of times we get caught up in the jealousy game with others who travel a lot, and we don’t. But even if you don’t travel much, the ability to do so is a freedom and a blessing, and one that should never be overlooked.
5. We Can Own Stuff that Makes Us Feel Good
I’m not much of a “stuff” person. And over-consumption and conspicuous consumption are often seen as some sort of social disease. That’s not without merit, but it also overlooks the more basic reality. We’re able to buy anything we can afford, and millions even buy what they can’t afford by using credit. That’s certainly a trap, but it’s also a form of freedom. Most of us can buy the things we need, and many of the things we want. Have you ever reflected on that?
6. We Still Have Freedom to Worship
As a Bible believing Christian, this one is especially important to me. We don’t have the freedom we once had in this area. As more people in America become “non-religious”, people of faith are more likely to be ridiculed, openly challenged, and even attacked. (Recall the South Carolina church shooting and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; ridicule has a way of escalating into violence.)
Yet despite the increasing challenges to people of faith, on any given day we’re free to pray and worship as we like, and meet and exchange with other believers. We can even make financial contributions to our houses of worship. That freedom is still worth celebrating.
7. We Have More Savings and Investment Options than Ever Before
The average, ordinary American today has more investment options available than even the wealthy had 50 or 100 years ago.
Whether you invest in any of the following or not, think about the value of having so many options:
- Online investing
- Discount brokerages
- Stocks and bonds
- Mutual funds, enabling you to invest in hundreds of companies with just a few thousand dollars.
- Exchange traded funds (ETFs), enabling you to invest in hundreds of companies with just a few hundred dollars.
- Online banking, enabling you to invest with banks across the country.
- Precious metals
- Foreign exchange
- Fractional shares investing, enabling you to invest in dozens of companies with just a few dollars.
- Real estate
- Real estate investment trusts (REITs), enabling you to invest in a portfolio of commercial real estate with just a few thousand dollars.
Collectively, this means you can build a portfolio of diversified investments with just a few thousand dollars. Through these vehicles and innovations, we can even invest in foreign assets, like stocks, funds and real estate.
The fact that this level of investing options has become so common as to be under-appreciated attests to its value.
None of them guarantees investment success, but collectively they do give us opportunities ordinary people have never known in history, and still don’t in much of the world. Much of it has come about through technology, particularly the Internet. But in general, the federal government has been extremely accommodating in this area, even encouraging investment activity through tax-sheltered retirement plans and lower tax rates on long-term capital gains.
8. There Are No Debtor’s Prisons
Debtors prisons were common throughout thousands of years of human history. They were officially abolished in the US by the middle of the 19th century (though they are making something of a comeback through the “backdoor”).
In a nation where so many are so deep in debt, and many are having difficulty servicing those debts, we should all be relieved that debtor’s prisons are no longer common. (And we should be vigilant to make sure they aren’t.)
9. We Have Access to Some of the Best Medical Treatment in the World
I’ve devoted a lot of ink on this website to discussing the ills of the American healthcare system. But it’s also true that it’s produced some of the most advanced lifesaving treatments in human history. Yes, it sucks when we’re paying those insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs. But it feels oh so good when we or a loved one successfully dodge a healthcare bullet because of it.
The current system is in desperate need of a complete overhaul. But let’s enjoy the benefits it produces in the meantime. They’re real, even if they’re often exaggerated.
10. We Can Be Friends with Whoever We Want
I grew up in a well-to-do suburban community located 23 miles west of Midtown Manhattan. By all external accounts, it was an idyllic place to live. But back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was undeniable that racism played a serious role in the community’s growth. Many of the residents were “refugees” from New York City or other urban areas in New Jersey.
Racist attitudes and commentary were “normal”. I can fully appreciate when people today make racist comments and follow them up by saying “I’m sorry, that was my father talking”. To his credit, my own father was much less of a racist than his peers. But I can’t say the same for most of the adults in my hometown. There was little doubt that there was a pervasive culture of racism.
In my own experience, far fewer white people today are anywhere near as racist as was the case 40 or 50 years ago. I’m not so naïve to believe that racism has been eliminated from our culture, but I am confident that it’s less a factor today than it was when I was growing up.
Today, we can – and often are – friends with people of other races and ethnic backgrounds. Racial intermarriage – unthinkable when I was a kid – is more common today than at any time in American history.
The point is, today we’re free to be friends with whoever we want. That’s a major advantage because life is richer when we welcome others into our lives who come from more diverse backgrounds.
And apart from race, the Internet has given us the ability to interact with people beyond our own communities, and even around the world. That’s a form of freedom we don’t always fully appreciate, and it benefits us all.
11. There’s Still Plenty of Free and Low Cost Ways to Entertain Ourselves
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that our trip to the beach last Memorial Day weekend included a free concert and free fireworks. While there’s little doubt that higher end entertainment activities, like concerts, sporting events, and Broadway plays, have gotten out of financial reach of the majority of Americans, there are still plenty of free and low-cost ways to entertain ourselves.
My wife and I will often take a drive to the beach, up to the mountains, out to the countryside to visit farms, or to visit local historic towns. Sometimes we head downtown at night, to take in free concerts and have a drink at a favorite bar (as in one drink – neither of us are serious drinkers).
The point is, there’s plenty to do to entertain yourself that doesn’t involve spending a lot of money. But so many are so focused on following their favorite professional sports teams, going to concerts to see top name bands, or partaking in the latest techno-experience, that money eventually becomes a problem.
The good news is that we have the freedom to do both – to immerse ourselves in gold-plated entertainment, or to pursue less expensive alternatives. There are still plenty of those alternatives, so we all have a choice.
12. We Have More Communication Options Than Ever Before
Communicating by cell phone, email and live chat have become so common that we think of them like air and water. We even dare to criticize them – all while we fully immerse ourselves in them.
No doubt, being constantly connected is a negative. But we don’t have to go there either. We can choose to use communication technology for our own benefit, without letting it control our lives.
Living in what may be the most “connected” country in the world is something to be celebrated. And we’re free to decide whether we’ll use that benefit as a tool, or allow it to become a master.
13. We Can Buy Just About Anything from Just About Anywhere in the World
I don’t know about you, but I’m always mesmerized at the choices we have when it comes time to buy something. We can buy a widget at a high end retailer for “snob appeal”. But we can pay less at a big box retailer, and even less by buying online.
We also have the benefit of being able to buy products from all over the world. Once again, that’s a privilege once reserved for the wealthy. In our world today, shopping is basically borderless. We can choose a specific product – or the cheapest one – whether it’s made in America, China, Korea, Brazil or Canada.
We can bemoan the ills of globalism and foreign competition, but at the same time it’s combined to create a world of unlimited options. In general, I think there’s more good than bad in that mix.
14. More Food than We Can Ever Eat
Few people in Western civilization, and certainly here in America, ever contemplate the massive food advantage we have. But hundreds of millions around the world live on the edge of starvation, and many more live with the perpetual uncertainty of where their next meal is coming from.
It’s not just the amount of food we have available in America. Anytime I go grocery shopping, or even flip through a grocery store flyer, I’m amazed at the variety of foods we can buy. Unlimited meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and even those favorite culinary demons, processed foods, are widely available. At the deli counter alone, there are at least 50 meats and cheeses to choose from. And if we don’t feel like preparing meals at home, we have a choice of scores of restaurants in our communities, at all price levels.
Throughout much of human history, and still in much of the world, finding or producing enough food has been a perpetual struggle. Sure, we all wish food prices were lower. But closer to the truth is that we don’t deal with anywhere near the food insecurity that people thoughout history have, and many around the world still do.
15. Cutting Edge Technology
It often seems as if Americans are obsessed with technology, and there’s more than a grain of truth to that. Much of it is only of marginal value, and some of it seems to be aimed more at vanity than anything practical.
But the point is, America remains the cradle of technology. That technology may be manufactured in China, but it originates and is designed here in America. Even if you hate technology, you have to acknowledge the benefits it provides through the Internet, online investing, electronic money transfers, cell phones, and cable TV. And many of us even make a living as a result of that technology.
The spread of technology is not without its problems, but I for one see it primarily as a blessing. How we use it may be the real problem, and that’s no one’s fault but ours.
16. Nearly Unlimited Entertainment
I saved this one for last because it really is a mixed blessing. While we may think of entertainment as frivolous, it serves an important function in human life. It serves to distract us from the day-to-day stresses of living, as well as the crises we face from time to time. Living a happy life is mostly about balancing out the good and the bad. Entertainment helps us to do that.
And it often seems we have unlimited entertainment. TV is perhaps the most basic form of entertainment. With streaming services, we can watch just about any movie or TV program we want, at any time.
But there’s also radio, CDs, the Internet (accessed by both home computers and smart phones), and the oft-mentioned staples of sports, concerts, live theater and travel.
The point is, we’re blessed (or cursed) to have virtually unlimited entertainment. And it’s available on a 24/7 basis. Like anything else, too much is detrimental. But we have control over exactly how much we take in, and what.
Once again, it’s that freedom of choice thing. And in America, we have that in almost every facet of life.
These Are All Gifts We Need to Seriously Embrace and Preserve
After devoting more than 3,000 words to what’s right about America this Fourth of July, I also want to add a warning – it could all slip away.
It’s often said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance (or isn’t free)”. That statement is sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson, though the exact source is actually unknown. But many people today use that statement in support of foreign warfare. In truth, it relates more to a free people properly valuing their freedom, and defending it from encroachment by domestic sources.
We still enjoy an incredible number of freedoms in America. But there’s no question many of those freedoms are under assault. For example, we routinely submit ourselves to constant surveillance, all in the name of security. Both freedom of speech and freedom of religion are under assault because someone somewhere is “offended” by what another says or believes. Think about the number of people in the public eye who have seen their careers destroyed simply for saying the wrong thing.
When I was young, I often heard the phrase “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. That concept is nearly dead in America today, and its death comes with serious consequences. It removes the right to disagree, and that’s truly the beginning of the end.
Don’t Be So Willing to Trade Your Freedom for the False god of Security
We’re willingly surrendering freedoms – if only gradually – to satisfy the god of security. Or in exchange for the “right” to not be offended.
A famous Bible passage illustrates the consequences of trading the long-term good for a short-term benefit:
“ Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.” – Genesis 25:29-34 (NIV)
As Americans, we’re increasingly are willing to trade a birthright of freedom for a rising measure of security, putting all freedoms we enjoy at risk in the process. The slow nature of the erosion of those freedoms makes their disappearance seem invisible.
But here’s a quote no freedom-loving American should dismiss lightly:
“The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him, the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people. His servitude is strictly objective.” – Aldous Huxley
Final Thoughts on What’s Right About America this Fourth of July
My hope is that you’ll carefully consider and embrace the 16 freedoms I’ve listed in this article. And with an election year before us, and the many empty promises that will come with it, don’t be so willing to give up your right to choose to live life on your own terms in exchange for the promise of a security that doesn’t exist this side of Heaven.
The future of freedom in America depends on us being alert, and making the right choices. Not just in who we vote for, but also in how we live, what we support, and what we oppose.