I love cheeseburgers. And citrus-infused beer (don’t judge me!) in the hot summer months.
I also love to sail. But when I say that I love my wife, my children, and my friends, everyone knows that I’m using the word love in a different way.
There’s another take on this oft-used word that’s appropriate for today.
I love my country, and I’m unabashedly proud to say it out loud. Love of country isn’t unique to America, although we’ve definitely cornered the market when it comes to enthusiasm!
I love the fact that we’re based on the premise of self-government. We start from the idea that governments serve citizens, not the other way around.
And everyone has a voice.
But lately our fair country has suffered a self-inflicted wound. We’ve stopped debating issues. We’ve replaced healthy and vigorous conversation with insults and dismissal, taking offense at, well, everything.
This didn’t start with the Trump administration, but it certainly has intensified since the last election.
This is un-American. We’re the land of ideas and opportunities, which stems directly from our willingness to stand toe-to-toe with others and fight over ideas.
We search for the truth, or as close as we can get, as well as consensus. At least, we used to.
We can blame the internet, cable news, or even our elected officials. But those aren’t the real culprits.
Muckrakers have existed for as long as the printed word, and we have more than our fair share of what I call the outraged class, like commentators on cable news, often offended college kids, and friends who rant without allowing anyone else to talk.
But they aren’t the ones holding us hostage. We are.
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We’ve allowed the outraged class to dictate the terms of conversation. Pick most any controversial topic, and chances are we can’t talk about it.
Halloween costumes, race, college admissions, campus sexual assault, immigration, voting districts, crime, bail, wedding cakes, and now simply going out to dinner (if you serve in the current administration) are all off limits.
Civility calls on us to avoid conflict when possible, but there is a limit, and I think we’ve passed it.
Too many of us don’t engage so that we don’t accidentally offend others. That’s polite, but we’ve come to a point where those who feel offended take our silence as tacit agreement. That’s a problem.
We’re American. Unlike Jack Nicholson’s assessment of Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men,” we can handle the truth.
If some of the outraged class can’t handle open, measured conversation, well, that’s their issue.
So today, to celebrate America’s birthday, let’s have a barbeque, a beer, and a (verbal) brawl.
We should exercise our freedom to say what we’re thinking, knowing that we’re protected by the very document that outlines how we govern ourselves, the U.S. Constitution.
The best way to stop the outraged class from gaining ground is to remove the scarlet letters they’ve put on every topic. Make the conversations ordinary, with no stigma or horror attached.
And then, do the next American thing. Listen.
Our nation was founded on the principle of self-government. Not my self-government, or your self-government, but ours.
If your friend/neighbor/co-worker/whatever isn’t interested in talking, that’s OK. You tried.
If they chose to scream and rant, well, you know they are part of the outraged class. Bring up a few more topics. Get them really riled up.
You might not reach a consensus, but at least you’ll be entertained.
And then, remember that you can do all of this because of where you live.
Happy Birthday, America.