A willingness to love your country by looking at it clearly.
What The Constitution Means To Me, nominated for two Tony Awards, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the show is inspired by her time as a fifteen-year-old high school student competing in American Legion speech and debate contests, where she spoke about the meaning of our founding document.
When I listened to last weeks show I contemplated recording myself reading some of I am a Patriot and sending it to Preet, but as usual my absolute terror of speaking in front of a group (even time-delayed speaking) drowned the idea and hid its body in the woods until the submission time had passed. There were still a respectable number of submissions, and the editor of the podcast (who doesn’t appear to be named anywhere) blended them together in a nice tribute that probably took several hours to get right. This episode is well worth the time it takes to listen. Maybe I’ll be able to catch Heidi Scheck’s show when it goes on the road.
The National Forensics League is a nationwide organization that gives high school students the opportunity to polish their speaking/acting skills, compete in regulated National tournaments, and be a part of a lifelong organization that promotes solid speaking skills and intelligence. Bruno E. Jacob began to contemplate the foundation of the NFL when asked if there was an honor society for high school debaters. Realizing such a thing did not exist, Jacob drafted a proposal and in 1925 the NFL was born. It is now the oldest and largest honor society for speech and debate high school students. The NFL continues to exude excellence by promoting achievement in debate, speech, and academics. For instance, the NFL awards around $153, 000 in college scholarships every year to help members who otherwise might not be able to afford college.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
He might as well have named Donald J. Trump, the description fits so well. A hat/tip to Justin Amish and the Washington Post for publishing his opinion piece today. It motivated me to go look up Washington’s farewell address just to verify that was the language in the document.
Today, I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party. No matter your circumstance, I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us. I’m asking you to believe that we can do better than this two-party system — and to work toward it. If we continue to take America for granted, we will lose it.
I’m hoping the people who try to burn down our neighborhood every 4th of July will finally make friends in the country so they can go out there and frighten the wildlife. Either that or get someone to drive them downtown for the city’s fireworks display. My dogs hate the explosions and I haven’t celebrated independence day for almost a decade now. Between the dogs and my own disabilities, there is little sense in mucking up the air with burnt offerings to the gods of independence. All of us are dependent on somebody. Some of us are just more cognizant of this fact than others.
The episode of On the Media that was playing in my headphones when I started writing the reply to the above status post was topical for the looming July 4th holiday. A similar holiday also happens on July 1st in Canada. Canada is celebrating 150 years as a nation. Except they really aren’t. Celebrating, that is. Not in the way Americans would recognize.
“Canadians kinda don’t need [patriotism] we have hospitals”
Snark aside, there is something about the July 4th holiday and the near-manic manner in which it is celebrated that leaves the outside observer and likewise the cynic wondering “what do they have to celebrate?” With incomes at all-time lows for the average American, with poverty on the rise and the mega-rich in ownership of the entire US government; with popular denial of science leading to defunding of scientific ventures like the SSC, the international space station and the space program which in turn has led to Europe breaking new ground in science exploration over the last decade, one really wonders what it is about America that we really are celebrating.
I mean, we aren’t the free-ist. We aren’t the happiest. We aren’t the richest. The one thing you can put your finger on that we do better than anybody is build an impressively large military, spending more on our military than the next 8 countries combined. We pay a lot more for healthcare than any other country, and we get some of the shoddiest results from this overspending. We consume the most. We throw away to most. We throw away so much usable stuff that there are countries whose economies are benefitted by buying our cast-offs and putting them to use.
I set this piece up with the chorus from Jackson Browne’s song I am a Patriot several years ago. Before Trump. Before Obama’s second term. That is how long I’ve been stewing on these ideas I’m putting down here, the conflict at the heart of America’s need to scream their love of themselves at the world. There is something really, horribly wrong with this picture.
I am a patriot And I love my country Because my country is all I know I want to be with my family The people who understand me I’ve got nowhere else to go
This observation is at once achingly true and laughably simplistic, which is why this song rings true with me. Most people are patriots because, what else would you want them to be? Hate their lives and where they live? Who lives long in that state of mind? Not too many people. Consequently, everyone is a patriot and no one is, simultaneously. This is a truism just as everyone is as free as they want to be is a truism. Absolute freedom is to be released from constraint, to not have to eat or sleep or breath. Not have to feel pain or feel anything at all. Absolute freedom is death, to not know constraint of any kind. Are the enslaved then to blame for their own enslavement? Only if you believe death is a preferable state of being. Of non-being. Embracing freedom as a concept that can unite all people in the third verse is an acknowledgement of the universal appeal of these fuzzy concepts, and yet freedom is as indefinable as patriot in the real world.
So I don’t hate my country anymore than the next fellow. I just don’t understand why it is we in the US feel compelled to try to burn the whole place down every 4th of July. If I had to pick one thing, just one thing, that I thought was superior about the US, about America, I can give that answer without much thought. The best thing about our country is the first amendment to the constitution. Freedom of speech makes everything else possible, because the ability to form concepts and communicate them to another is possibly the most human thing we do. The most distinctive thing about us as living creatures. It is the first of the four freedoms for a reason.
That is why when the US fails to live up to the promise of the First Amendment, it can be so devastating to those caught in the crossfire. People like Aaron Copland.
“Copland’s scores and recordings were banned in hundreds of overseas libraries. Access officially denied.”
Every Independance Day for the past decade and more I have sat down and watched movies with The Wife. My go-to film is 1776on laserdisc. I like this version better than the streamed or bluray offering because it is actually a statement on the divisive nature of American life. Visible across the length of that film are splices and ink-marks and scissor cuts where Jack Warner at the direction of the Nixon White House cut scenes and whole songs from the film. Nixon didn’t approve of the apparent cowardice of the conservatives as portrayed in the play. Their stated willingness to allow others to risk so that they could preserve their wealth and security. The words may be placed in the mouths of the actors on the stage, but the sentiment of the time is beautifully captured in the verse of the songs, the fervor of John Adams, the melancholy of the (real) dispatches from George Washington in the field. Franklin’s open pragmatism. The feeling that America must be free to find her own destiny, not ruled over by Europeans intent on subjecting it for the purpose of profit for themselves, no matter the cost. This version speaks to me in my soul, the tension and conflict then and now. The pulls in different directions, to risk for the sake of principle, to recoil at the prospect of loss. This is life in the US and possibly life as it is throughout the world.
The Wife watches either ID4 or Live Free or Die Hardsometimes both of them. Over-the-top explosions, hammy one-liners and the good guys winning in the end. I think she shares more with the sentiment of the average American than I ever could just in her choice of movies. Nothing in life has ever been that simple for me, and maybe that’s the point. She seeks escape in her movies. I seek new ways of looking at the world and myself, insights that have never occurred to me before. That I haven’t driven her screaming mad in 30 years of life together is more a testament to her strength than it is to my willingness to compromise on what movies I will sit and watch repeatedly.
For the last few years my July 4th celebrations have been limited to watching my favorite holiday film and the wife‘s favorite holiday film; which are 1776 watched on the dusty old laserdisc player (the only complete version of the film in existence, although the blu-ray comes close to it) and ID4 which can be watched on any format as long as it includes surround sound.
For me it’s hard to beat the patriotic zeal of John Adams and his co-conspirators plotting to remove the American colonies from under the heel of their English masters. A good portion of it set to music, and sung quite well by the original broadway cast, directed by the same director. I own and have watched the blu-ray version of this film. It is quite good, but it is not the same film that was released on laserdisc; nor does it have the secondary audio track describing the painstaking effort spent on reassembling the film after it was cut by Jack Warner with a pair of scissors; this after it had been put to bed by the director and assumed finished. The cutting included the removal of a pivotal song in the middle of the film Cool, Considerate Men at the request of President Nixon, personally. The song portrays the views of conservatives of the time who did not want to risk their lives, wealth and property on the very slim chance that Washington would ever be victorious against the British army.
On a lighter note, the wife loves ID4. When the pool was functional, she was frequently alone in the living room watching it while the rest of us retired to the pool. One year she begged a projector from friends and we watched it on the patio from the pool. That was a good summer. The best part of the film for me is the scene where Houston, having been destroyed by the aliens earlier in the film, is nuked in a defensive attempt to destroy the invading aliens. Any film that destroys Houston twice is a watchable film in my book. Sorry Houston residents; the truth hurts, I know.
A sequel to ID4 is slated for release next Independence Day (2016) titled Independence Day Resurgencewhich they shorten to IDR. I don’t relate to that title very well. Maybe the film will make up for it. (Editor’s note: It didn’t)
The most common form of Independence Day celebration, fireworks, are only a memory for me. As a kid it was my favorite holiday because of the fireworks. We’d always have a decent personal show set up in the street in front of our house, or in our back yard. I constructed models just to blow them up with fireworks on the 4th of July. I remember fondly the first time Leoti paid for a firework display, laying in the middle of the football field watching the fireworks go off overhead. I also remember many a summer where I temporarily deafened myself standing too close to explosives when they went off.
Another point of history that should be instructional.
As my disability has progressed, sensitivity to noise has increased. Any loud noise can set off vertigo quite easily. Flashes of light are painful, not enjoyable. Combustion fumes alone have been known to send me into a vertigo spell, so the great American pastime of trying to set the neighborhood on fire on Independence Day occurs without my active participation.
In Austin the city display is the only display allowed by law, a fact I find ironical as well as sensible. There is always a neighbor who defies the ordinance and sets fireworks off anyway, usually several of them. The police and firemen are kept running all night long responding to calls. At least the region is well watered this year. Won’t be any county-wide grass fires set off by fireworks this summer.
Oatmeal’s America Explained to Non-American’s on a Facebook friends wall inspired this introspection. The page features a whole fleet of images, you’ll just have to go to his site and soak up the glory that is America. Looking back, as I’ve alluded to twice already, I wonder why the obvious desperation of July 4th celebrations isn’t apparent to more Americans. We so desperately want to demonstrate to the world how happy we are being free. One would think that the joy of real freedom would be enough, if only we know what that elusive thing really is.