Sunday, July 06, 2008 By Aaron Brown
After the Fourth
By Aaron J. Brown
Last I checked we still live in the United States.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to ramble off on an anti-immigrant tirade or demand that the foreign language directions for my recent electronics purchase be replaced with Toby Keith lyrics. My point has to do with our national patriotic holiday.
Around here (meaning America), the Fourth of July is one of the big holidays. One could argue it’s the biggest holiday of the summer, equivalent to winter’s Christmas, spring’s Easter and autumn’s Halloween. All of these other holidays come with a depressing aftermath, however. The post-Christmas letdown is the most obvious. You’ve got wrapping paper all over the house and the relatives resume their icy indifference to each other. After Easter, it’s that green plastic grass from the kids’ Easter baskets. That stuff will survive the human race. Then, on All Saints Day after Halloween, we must reckon with that polar bear suit that was part of an elaborate themed costume that is now just a used polar bear suit.
But what about Fourth of July? What comes after Independence Day? It’s not like we’re supposed to get tired of freedom or the Bill of Rights. Are we supposed to take down the flags? What about the bunting? Does taking down the red, white and blue bunting mean we stand with the terrorists? I sure hope not.
I think this problem has gotten worse in recent years. Something happened after the sincere crisis of 9/11. Every day became the Fourth of July. Americans needed some way to show solidarity after that terrible day, so they found myriad ways to show their patriotism. Flag decals. Flag sweaters. Flag pins. But see, that’s what the Fourth of July used to be. It used to be the day that people publicly demonstrated love of country. The other 364 days were for going to work and mowing the lawn or drinking. Or inventing the Internet. You know, American stuff.
Now that every day is the Fourth of July, we don’t have the healthy transition out of the holiday that we enjoy after the other big occasions. Just think: what if the downtown speakers never stopped playing “Little Drummer Boy?” Not even when the temperature hit 90. What if we ate six pounds of turkey, stuffing and potatoes every day, a la Thanksgiving? Well, I tell you what. We’d be crazy. We’d sweat grease, drive around on scooters and crave the predictable patterns of a regular work day.
Symbols and demonstrations have their place. Take a wedding for instance. Weddings have all sorts of traditions. The couple cuts the cake together, demonstrating their desire to share food. The bride dances with her dad at the reception, showing that she’s still his little girl even though he is now very, very old. And all these traditions hold deep meaning. But what if these traditions were deployed every day? What if husband and wife jointly poured their Cheerios into a communal bowl, sharing it with a decorative spoon? That wouldn’t make the marriage stronger, just stranger.
So the bunting comes down today. Not the flag or love of country. That goes on all year in word and deed, but the American flag bandana now becomes optional. (Hint: it’s only cool if it’s ironic!) Holidays are reminders of important principles. We don’t forget what Christmas means in July. Nor should we forget what Independence Day means. But patriotism is not substance on its own. There’s a time for demonstration and a time for action. With an important election, deep economic challenges and meaningful opportunities all hovering on the horizon, it’s time for today’s Americans to give their great-grandkids something to be patriotic about.
I archive my columns at my writing site.