Leftover Thoughts From the Holiday Week
Independence Day is a wonderful holiday; personally, I rank it second behind Thanksgiving for consistently good times and memories. And yet I am always glad to see it in the rearview mirror, as we do this week.
I’m of that peculiar Southern breed that loves hot, humid weather, though not as hot as it’s been lately. Our national birthday tells me that summer is well under way, yet there remains plenty of time before we turn serious.
Like Thanksgiving, Independence Day is about paying tribute to our past. Americans stand on the shoulders of others, and we owe a debt to the future to respect how we got to this place. And I even try to enjoy the exuberant excesses we allow ourselves about our past.
I spent some time last week delving into author Robert Heinlein and ran across this wonderful reminder:
“Delusions are often functional. A mother’s opinions about her children’s beauty, intelligence, goodness, et cetera ad nauseam, keep her from drowning them at birth.”
And this helped me grasp the value of the sanitized versions of our history, which sometime rattle my sanity.
But there is an increasing refrain that intrudes.
The Fourth of July just seems to surface all sorts of folks who want to bemoan the sorry state of the United States. And this year, my masochistic nature would not allow me to switch the station on the radio as I ran the interminable errands to pick up “oh, I forgot the (long list goes here) at the store,” so I heard every iteration.
The most common theme on radio, and in the too many columns I read last Wednesday, was how Americans should be celebrating “Dependence” Day, as we’ve become a nation that has forgotten what the Founding Fathers brought forward. We are a nation that cries “gimme, gimme” and whines endlessly when we find the trough dry.
This staccato is not new. I ran across a Heinlein quote from almost 40 years ago:
“The America of my timeline is a laboratory example of what can happen to democracies, what has eventually happened to all perfect democracies throughout all histories. A perfect democracy, a ‘warm body’ democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens … which is opposed by the folly, and lack of self-restraint, of other citizens.
“What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it … which for the majority translates as ‘bread and circuses.’ ‘Bread and circuses’ is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure.”
While I understand the thinking behind Heinlein’s bleak assessment, and the despair that undergirds this year’s complaints, I found myself intolerably irritated with our attitudes of abandonment. Blame gets us nowhere, and it gives people excuses not to act.
Heinlein, in his way, suggests a path:
“Do not confuse ‘duty’ with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.”
Yes, America has problems. We have had these problems from the first glimmer of independence, long before the Declaration was wrought. And we will, hopefully, have similar problems when our grandkids’ grandkids are celebrating and bemoaning, too, that the liberals want to give everything away and the conservatives want to take everything away.
Let others bemoan; we should shoulder what we choose as our duty.
Frank Daniels III, part owner of The Pilot and cousin of Pilot Publisher David Woronoff, is the community engagement editor of The Nashville Tennessean. Contact him at fdanielsiii@ tennessean.com.
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