Peaceable Man Files Issue #12: This Fourth, Let's Honor the Flag by Honoring the Union
Random musings on my gypsy existence at my cabin in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and wherever else life takes me.
Happy Fourth of July, peaceable peeps! I hope you enjoy your parades, cookouts, or whatever else you have planned today. Amidst the fun, let us not forget all the veterans out there who sacrificed so much to give us the hard-won freedoms we enjoy today.
As I write this, I’m sitting out on the deck of my cabin taking in the view of the South Knob of Elk Mountain. It’s a gorgeous summer day, temperature in the 70s with low humidity and a soft breeze blowing. The American flag is fluttering on the pole out front (yes, that’s my dog Cassie in the picture). Barn swallows swoop over the meadow in search of bugs. A short while ago, I saw a bald eagle fly over the creek at the bottom of the hill.
Depending on how my newly replaced left hip is feeling, I hope to take advantage of the fair weather later to do a little fly fishing. Or maybe I’ll stay here and continue reading Joel Richard Paul’s Without Precedent, a biography of early 19th century Supreme Court justice John Marshall. I’ve on a bit of a history kick lately, and at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is making decisions that are profoundly impacting the day-to-day lives of everyday Americans, I want to learn more about the court and how it became what it is today.
At any rate, it’s up to me what I want to do this day, and tomorrow, and the day after. As long as I don’t break the law (me, break the law?) or do something that interferes with other people’s rights (don’t want to do that either), I have that choice, because I live in a free country.
It’s easy to take these freedoms for granted when you have them every day, but I like to remind myself that much of what I’m doing right now, such as expressing my personal views in a public forum, would not be allowed in many other countries around the world.
I have a cousin, for example, who lives in Venezuela. Life in that country, he tells me, is like being in prison. The government and court system are rife with nepotism, the state controls what you’re able to say and read, and the military stomps on human rights with arbitrary whim.
My cousin would love nothing more than to come to America and experience the freedoms that are written into our Constitution. But, alas, he’s not free to go. He’s stuck.
So, no, I’m not taking anything for granted. Every day, I count my blessings for being a citizen of this great country. And if you don’t feel that way, that’s okay too, because in America, you’re free to feel and think and believe what you want. That’s the way freedom works. It’s a universal principle that allows for a multiplicity of feelings, beliefs, opinions, philosophies, dogmas, religions, and yes, even conspiracy theories.
I thought of my cousin the other day when I had a political conversation with a neighbor who lives up the road from my cabin. My neighbor is the nicest guy, always willing to lend me a hand when I need something. But he’s also a bit of a conspiracy theorist. He told me he had recently watched the blatantly propaganda film Two Thousand Mules and was more convinced than ever that the U.S. government was corrupt. He said that if there was ever another January 6th event at the Capitol, he would go, because the system needed to be brought down.
Now, generally I try to avoid political conversations while I’m up here at the cabin and elsewhere. I want to get along with people, to find common ground, not differences.
Still, sometimes you have to speak out. So, very respectfully, I said I disagreed. The United States may be imperfect, it may be inefficient and in need of streamlining, but it is not corrupt. Venezuela is corrupt. Somalia is corrupt. Syria is corrupt. There is a big difference between messy and corrupt. Democracies are, by definition, messy. The Founding Fathers knew this, which is why they put plenty of checks and balances in place to keep the system from going off the rails. If we wanted neat and orderly, we would have been better off sticking with a monarchy where a king tells us what to do and how to think.
Having said my piece, I smiled and gently changed the subject, asking him what he was fishing for these days. We were back to the common ground of everyday life in a free country.
Still, the conversation ate at me. I can understand dissatisfaction with the system and a desire to make it better. But in the words of the immortal John Lennon, “when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”
I’ve become something of a student of American history in recent years. I read books and listen to podcasts on different historical periods and figures, and the thing that has struck me more than anything else is the rancor that has accompanied our country’s politics for nearly all our 250 years. People have always disagreed, sometimes vehemently, about things that were going on in the country and the future of the republic.
The difference today, I think, is that we have media platforms and megaphones everywhere for people and groups to shout and amplify their perceived grievances. These loud voices seek to divide us, to create enemies and pit one group of Americans against the other. Many of our so-called leaders thrive on such divisiveness. It’s a way of riling up the crowd and drawing attention that drive ratings and advertising dollars.
Listen to these voices and you can think things are terribly, terribly wrong in America; that the country is going in a bad direction; that the system is in need of overthrow and maybe you need to march on the Capitol and start breaking windows.
I refuse to buy into these voices of intolerance and negativity. Would we kill the goose that feeds us because we don’t like the look of its eggs? If the eggs are nutritious, who cares what shape and color they are?
I think it’s important to remember that the American experiment as founded nearly 250 years ago was just that—an experiment. It was an experiment that had never been done before and had no guarantee of success. But a quarter of a millennium later, the republic is still going, and we’re all blessed to be part of it.
For all its faults and inherent messiness, the United States system of government is a thing of beauty that needs to be celebrated and uplifted, not brought down. What has made our system last so long is that it based on a set of universal principles such as equality, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state. America has never been about a single culture or set of beliefs. From day one, we’ve been a melting pot of ethnicities, races, religions, colors, and ideologies all living in the same house. The house can get raucous at times, but the foundation is strong.
Freedom means you can think and believe what you want to think and believe, and I can think and believe what I want to think and believe, and as long as the stuff in our respective heads doesn’t break the law, infringe upon others’ rights, or threaten the fabric of the system itself, we’re good. Because once you threaten the system, you threaten the foundation of the house in which we all live together.
That’s what it means to me to be an American, and it’s the reason I’m so optimistic about the future of this country and am so deeply grateful to live in it.
Today, I’m honoring our flag by honoring our union that has lasted 250 years. I hope you join me.
Best wishes to all of you for a wonderful Fourth and a peaceful, blessed week.
As always, if any of this resonates with you, please feel free to pass it onto others and invite them to subscribe to the Peaceable Man newsletter. If not, just hit delete. It's a free country!