Shades of gray on the Fourth of July
2 min read

Shades of gray on the Fourth of July

Conflict is baked into the American cake, a chronic, happy-but-sometimes-uncomfortable side effect of the liberties we enjoy.
Plattsburg, MO, 2009

It's a tough Fourth of July this year.

Short tempers all around. Everyone f̶o̶r̶c̶e̶d̶  strongly encouraged to pick a side. And if you do? That choice, for some, defines your relationship with them forever.

It's a year of muted oohing and ahhing at real and metaphorical fireworks, behind real and metaphorical masks.

I mope about it -- I am a world-class moper. But I also remind myself that this moment isn't unique.

We've been here before.

Since the beginning, we've been patriots and loyalists, federalists and anti-federalists, abolitionists and confederates, expansionists and isolationists, corporatists and environmentalists -- and far more. Conflict is baked into the American cake, a chronic, happy-but-sometimes-uncomfortable side effect of the liberties we enjoy.

MAGA hats and BLM protesters or however else you'd prefer to characterize the current moment? Just the flavor of the month at Baskin-Robbins. It's all still ice cream.

But just because we've been here before doesn't mean we can't do better. And maybe a good start would be for us -- all of us, myself included -- to realize that our history is a palette of grays, not some stark, black-and-white dichotomy that perfectly frames whatever point we're trying to advance today.

We've had a lot of genuinely awful leaders and representatives, some of whom managed to accomplish tremendous good as well. Bad decisions, self-interest and power-seeking, even by our heroes, is a story as old as humanity itself.

Our shared history includes the Trail of Tears, *and* the hundreds of Native American-owned slaves that tribal leaders forced along on that gruesome march.

It includes the shame of the WWII internment camps *and* the legacy of media that happily set aside objectivity -- then as now -- to stir up fear. Because fear keeps people reading or watching.

And, yes, our shared history includes two slave owners on Mt. Rushmore -- flawed men who gave birth to a flawed country that, for all those flaws, has still done more to advance and sustain basic human liberty than any nation in history.

It's a messy, uncomfortable and wholly amazing chronicle. And there's no reason to think today's efforts to create the country we want tomorrow -- be they right, left or otherwise -- will be simpler or less subject to human frailty and passions.

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying: Happy Fourth of July, even if you're unhappy with the state of things. We're a bit of a mess and there's no harm in owning up to that.

But we're also more than a little awesome, and there's no harm in owning up to that, either.