Patriotic Americans

This past Saturday night I went out to dinner in Washington, DC, with one of my sisters. Our Uber driver on the way over was a retired cop, a lovely African-American woman who proudly told us about her two sons in college and her husband who might retire from American Airlines soon, but in her view shouldn’t. She doesn’t think sitting at home would make him happy.

She had to drop us several blocks from our destination because we had chosen a restaurant without being aware that it was just then being passed by a massive LGBTQ Pride parade.

A large, boisterous crowd was on hand for the parade, and at one point as we walked toward the restaurant we were doused with a spray from above that I momentarily feared wasn’t water, but was. We hadn’t made dinner reservations in advance, so as we walked, given the size of the crowd I was guessing that other walk-ins would have taken all the restaurant’s seats; happily we got a table on the sidewalk just around the corner from but in view of the parade route. Thus we had front row seats to the celebration as we dined; it was easier to take it all in from our seats than it had been while fighting our ways through the crowd.

While almost everybody was sporting some article of clothing or makeup that shouted solidarity with the parade’s purpose, at least two thirds of those who were there to watch were young heterosexual couples, often with a child or two in tow. Many parade participants were dressed in consciously “outrageous” and stereotypically gay attire; they added an air of campy authenticity to the event.

Floats passed by, draped with rainbows, placards celebrating gay pride and, my favorites, variants on the American flag with multicolored stripes replacing the traditional red and white ones. I didn’t see those modified flags as being disrespectful of Old Glory, but rather as an homage to our nation’s ever-increasing openness. Not only were the floats’ riders out and proud, they were proclaiming their love of our country.

To my eyes, and in spite of the deep divides in Americans’ political perspectives that the media are at pains to highlight daily, it was an interestingly non-political event. As you would expect, there were no MAGA hats in evidence, but neither did I see overt signs of Trump hatred. It was a happy crowd.

***

Sometimes it seems that people on the left focus only on things about America that were or are terribly unfair. Instead of celebrating our nation’s amazing successes, they mourn our forbears’ shortcomings and accuse the rest of us of continuing in the same errors.

In eyes of those who elevate their own senses of self-worth by denigrating others, even Jefferson and Washington are now to be dis-honored, in the literal sense of erasing them from the pantheon of those whose accomplishments we are to honor, or, if that isn’t possible, besmirching them as terrible people.

It’s true, of course, that Washington and Jefferson, and lots of others of our founding fathers, were slave-owners and flawed humans. But we are all flawed humans in our own ways, and what we celebrate about the giants of American history, slave-owners or not, isn’t their flaws but the strengths that enabled them to play essential roles in the creation of this great nation. We downplay these men, their ideals, the personal risks they took to advance those ideals and their accomplishments at the expense of forgetting just how unique the road they put us on was, or understanding how that road led to where we are today.   

It’s also true that until quite recently in this country, as in most other countries, gay people faced overt discrimination and sometimes persecution. They still do in many places – just not as often or as harshly in the western world as in places where less emphasis is placed on individual liberties. All of what we call the West has benefited directly or indirectly from the American revolutions – the initial, military one against the British that established a nation based on a new, more democratic system, and the gradual, cultural one that gave ever-larger life to the ideas about liberty that had inspired the founders.

The ideals so beautifully articulated by our nation’s founding fathers have led us to places that those men and others of their time couldn’t possibly be expected to have understood given the worlds in which they had grown up. They may never have imagined African-American cops or presidents, or gay pride parades, but the ideals they articulated and fought for have led to ever-wider recognition of all people’s fundamental human rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, an accomplishment that is as enormous in its scope and effects as it is exceptional in human history.

I see our racial progress and last Saturday night’s crowd’s joyfulness as direct effects of our heritage of liberty, and the American flag -variants at the parade as oblique but important acknowledgments of that same heritage, for which I am deeply grateful.

It was a happy evening.

M.H. Johnston

3 comments to Patriotic Americans

  • DP  says:

    Worthy of Andy Rooney on July 4th….

  • Dennis Paine  says:

    A very clearly articulated libertarian view!
    Thank you, Mark.

  • Eric  says:

    Thanks for your positive observations. I hope the dinner was good. too.

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