Thank an immigrant this July 4th
The Spirit of Independence Day is America's greatest import
For most of my growing-up years, I lived near an Air Force base in New Hampshire. In those days, July 4 was about the party, and the fireworks. My father took my brother and me to the Boston Pops on the Esplanade for the Bicentennial in 1976. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture still rings fresh in my memory. It’s mildly ironic that the centerpiece performance in the cradle of American independence was composed by a Russian homosexual. It’s more ironic that the composition is about Napoleon’s conquest of Moscow—only to have 90 percent of the French army starve and die of disease as the Russians burned it to the ground rather than yield.
On July 4, 1992, I moved from New Hampshire to Warner Robins, Georgia, to another Air Force base. “Wartown” as it is known, sums up its slogan with an acronym appropriate for a military town: EDIMGIAFAD. (Anyone who has dealt with the military knows that everything runs on acronyms.) “Every day in Middle Georgia is Air Force Appreciation Day.” And it is, but July 4 had some special performances at the city’s football stadium, with whatever B-plus-list musical act or celebrity host they could afford. These days that’s morphed into a huge fireworks show at the Georgia National Fairgrounds, which is ten miles south in Perry, but who’s keeping track anymore?
I lived in Warner Robins for 26 years, and for much of that time, I had an American flag flying in front of my home. However, it wasn’t until I moved to north metro Atlanta that I realized something I had never considered. The true spirit of our Independence Day does not lie with those who can trace their lineage back to Lexington and Concord, nor does it lie with those who wear the uniform of our armed forces. Now before I get some of my relatives tied up in knots and cutting me out of wills, I am not saying that families who can trace generations of tombstones, service and wars are not patriotic, nor am I saying that our service members lack patriotism. I am saying that their patriotism is rooted in the past, in tradition, and in pride. Just like old tombstones, these things need constant attention not to fall into disrepair.
(It might be helpful as an aside, to know that veterans organizations rub sand into the tombstones of American war dead in our national cemeteries, and in the ones overseas, to preserve the names from fading away.)
Recently, Jedediah Britton-Purdy, a constitutional law professor at Duke who wrote “Two Cheers for Politics: Why Democracy Is Scary, Flawed, and our Best Hope,” penned an op-ed in the New York Times headlined “Democrats Need Patriotism Now More Than Ever.” As much as I disagree with much of Britton-Purdy’s politics, I think he’s on to something important.
Patriotic feeling is always attached to some vision of the country’s future, and, inevitably, to some Americans who share that vision more than others. It doesn’t transcend partisanship, but enriches partisan struggle, making it always an invitation to others to join you. It is a way of saying that we will not give up on one another, because the country that ties us together also gives us the power to remake it — in a better way, and, a patriot may feel, truer to itself.
Patriotism is forward-looking, and the spirit of July 4th is not a tombstone or marker for dead presidents, old wars, and past achievements. What I have found living in a new neighborhood, where very few active duty military or DoD civilians dwell, is that the best representatives of that spirit come from abroad.
My neighborhood is a polyglot mix of Indians (from India), east Asians (some Koreans, some Malays and some from other countries), Israelis, Brazilians, and a random smattering of Europeans, Russians, and good old-fashioned Americans. Every July 4th (and also on other national holidays), one patriotic family gets up extra early and puts up flags outside homes in our subdivision as a service to residents that pay an annual fee. We pay for it, but some of our foreigner neighbors don’t, but their reason is because they always fly their stars and stripes every day of the year.
When I lived in Warner Robins, I flew the flag from my home. The home I have here in north metro Atlanta lacks a good location to mount a flagpole, and the dreaded homeowner’s association doesn’t allow freestanding flagpoles. I am, however, impressed that families who weren’t born here take such pride in being Americans. When I’ve talked to them, they all expressed their gratitude for living in a country with such blessings as this one. They’ve encouraged us to pray for America.
These immigrant parents have raised their children here. They’ve realized their best dreams for their kids having opportunities they never had in their home countries. They’ve seen the incredible freedoms America gives to everyone. They’ve experienced the persecution, the embedded, terrible racism endemic in many of their home countries; the limited economic, educational, social, and religious freedoms that they left in the countries of their birth.
I work in a place staffed with more immigrants than natural-born Americans. Many of them are literally “just off the plane” or boat or however they arrived on our shores. Some of the people employed where I work don’t speak any English. Some have fled places like Afghanistan, or Guatemala. Ask any of them why they came to America—at considerable cost—leaving behind family, friends, and everything familiar. They are grateful for the chance to live here. They don’t find room in their hearts to complain. Many of them who have been here a while are proud that their kids are now doctors, engineers, lawyers, and successful at business.
Our “woke-ism,” intersectional identity politics, blood-and-soil nationalism, and the divisions created by our bloody history as America became the dominant nation on the earth are the result of our incredible prosperity, luxury, and the boredom generating by having way too much leisure time on our hands. America is the one and only poster child for what I call “apex world problems.” I’ve spoken with many people who have lived in other first world nations (including American ex-pats, missionaries, and immigrants), and those nations have their own first world problems. But America is the only country where the the least of us—living below the poverty line—can afford to have first world problems while also enjoying well-paved roads, smartphones, and new cars. We are truly the apex of navel-gazing, entitlement society.
Nothing kills the spirit of the 4th of July faster and deader than feeling you’re entitled to receive the blessings of our freedoms without at least showing gratitude. Gratitude leads to responsibility, wisdom, duty, and action. What we get in 2022 is opinion pieces in The Washington Post where David Ignatius writes:
What does our national portrait look like on this Independence Day? Many of us see an angry, traumatized face, rather than the radiant glow of the Founders. That’s the odd thing about this hyperpartisan moment: Nearly every American, whatever their political perspective, has a foreboding that the country they love is losing its way.
Yes, national unity is in decline. Yes, we are spending too much time online, spreading and consuming hate. Yes, the extremists are driving the national political narrative, on both ends of the spectrum. Yes, our federal government is bigger, meaner, and more imperious than at any time probably since the end of the First World War, when the racist president Woodrow Wilson spouted internationalism, free trade, and at the same time re-segregated our military and publicly stood with white supremacists.
And yes, the current President of the United States lacks the charisma, mental acuity, and ability to articulate a message of real patriotism, both to his own party and supporters, and to those in the opposition. Both sides of our political divide have given up on persuasion, and resorted to balkanization and demonization of the “other side.” That’s largely the fault of progressives and the reactionaries who oppose them. It’s because progressives have always felt that the best America is the one that doesn’t exist and must be created by their own will. A historical example: In the days of Wilson, the nation ratified the 18th Amendment, and Congress passed the Volstead Act criminalizing the sale of alcohol (over Wilson’s veto).
Present day, the Supreme Court returned the regulation of abortion to the states, and President Biden called for Congress to pass federal regulations to override state laws that ban the practice. It’s ironic that some of the most vocal pro-choice celebrities are blind to the fact that California’s abortion laws are much more permissive than most other nations in the world. Any federal push to codify Roe would certainly restrict abortion access in states like New York from their current laws. Immigrants don’t spend their political energy worrying over such so-called “rights.”
Biden also supports a planned economy that forces Americans to “go green.” In China, when the government wants to build a new dam project, it can force relocate ten million families without compensation. Immigrants see the U.S. and our federal system, our Bill of Rights, and our local, state, and federal law enforcement which for the greatest part are not corruption-riddled bribe machines, and are grateful Americans have such power to force the government to rethink its policies.
In reality, the only way for progressive policies to advance is for the federal government to grow and assume more power over our lives. This has built-in consequences. At some point, the public pushes back—many times, led by immigrants who brought the spirit of the 4th of July with them.
In Prohibition days, it was Irish and Italian immigrants who found abundant supplies of illegal alcohol. Eventually, political organizations like the AAPA pushed states to repeal by ratifying the 21st Amendment. Barack Obama’s policies toward Cuba, our southern border, and his running feud with Israel’s then-PM Benjamin Netanyahu pushed many normally-Democrat voters away from the party. Hillary Clinton’s cynical support of Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee, then her demonization of the voters who put him there cost her the election. The pendulum swung in many places on immigrants voting for Trump.
The legal immigrants who navigate our byzantine requirements are frequently the biggest supporters of ending the surge of illegals through our southern border. While we express compassion for those who enter our nation by hook or crook, realities on the ground cannot be ignored. It’s immoral to allow unrestricted crossing into our country by any means, and it leads to tragedies like the recent “piles of bodies” as 46 were found dead in a tractor trailer. Immigrants here legally oppose such folly.
It was immigrants who recently swept Democrats out of state offices in Virginia. It was immigrants who ignited the push to successfully recall Chesa Boudin as San Francsico’s pro-crime, anti-police progressive DA. Immigrants many times serve as the check on power for progressive schemes, because immigrants instinctively distrust the accumulation of too much power by the government. American progressives steeped in years of ultra-liberal theory always crave the centralization of power.
And one more thing: you didn’t see a whole lot of immigrants participate in the January 6th riot. I predict if Donald Trump decides to run again in 2024, it will be immigrants who seal his political fate in the primaries. The same immigrants who helped put him in office won’t allow him to return to power.
The strength of America lies in our diversity. The diversity of America is best expressed by those grateful to live here. The most patriotic, flag-waving, and fearless among us, perhaps historically, as well as in the present, are really the best import we bring to our shores. Ask any immigrant and you’ll see.
This 4th of July, I’m truly thankful to have discovered our treasured immigrants. May we always keep our shores open to them and allow them to create the best America, while keeping those of us who take it for granted from destroying it. Thank an immigrant this Independence Day.
Have a happy 4th of July!
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