Make this July 4th uniquely significant

·4 min read

No pressure, but this July 4th could be the most meaningful Independence Day of our lifetimes.

We're bringing troops home from the longest war in our history. We have withstood, at least for now, a violent attack on the seat of our national government and the democratic system we cherish. And our people are gradually returning to the public square after a disastrous pandemic that claimed more than 600,000 American lives.

This is a moment to take stock and celebrate the American capacity to endure.

Our country has been holding Independence Day celebrations ever since we asserted that independence. Before he was president — before anyone was president — John Adams predicted that the holiday would be marked with "Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

It was a bold prediction, considering that the outcome of the Revolutionary War was still years off and very much in doubt. His optimism proved justified. Now it falls to us, 245 years later, to live up to the ideal the founders articulated then bet their lives to uphold — that all people are created equal.

The record is mixed.

Was George Floyd treated as an equal? Do Native Americans enjoy a full share of our country's opportunity and prosperity? Do immigrant communities and people of color see themselves as true inheritors of America's freedoms?

And what do the events of the past year portend for the democracy we celebrate today? A considerable portion of our population believes the current president's election was illegitimate. State legislatures across the country are working to make voting less convenient. The mob that ransacked our U.S. Capitol in January sought to overturn an election. Some called for blood.

Here in Minnesota, political opponents labeled our governor a tyrant for allegedly misusing hispowers during a public-health emergency. King George III would think we were pulling his leg.

This year's Independence Day calls us to focus on what's important — on what it means to be Americans as we emerge from crisis. What are the responsibilities we owe one another? What counts as patriotism in 2021?

In that spirit, we offer a couple of suggestions:

Get vaccinated. Joining the ranks of those who have taken this elementary step to help end the COVID-19 pandemic may be the most patriotic gesture one can make. We would have liked to see President Joe Biden realize his administration's goal of vaccinating 70% of American adults by July 4th, but he was swimming against a tide of skepticism and distrust.

It is time — no, it is past time — for people to get over their unreasoning reluctance to take this simple, proven measure to help defeat the coronavirus and its variants. A report from our neighbors in Wisconsin proves the point: Of recent COVID-19 deaths in the state, 95% were of people who were unvaccinated, or only partly vaccinated. The science is unambiguous, and the shots are safe and free.

Granted, the public health would be served by simply ordering the population to line up for shots. But if vaccinations were mandatory, they'd be an act of obedience; keeping them voluntary makes them an act of patriotism. It may not be Nathan-Hale-level patriotism, but it's something.

Gather with friends and family. As hard as the lockdowns were, they were necessary — and they had the salutary effect of giving us a new appreciation of ordinary pleasures. To attend a cookout with one's family or friends is a gift that, until last year, we might have taken for granted. It is easier, now, to see the truth: Life is sweet and much too short.

Too many of our fellow Minnesotans had to endure those long months of lockdown without seeing grandchildren, or going to church, or saying goodbye to a loved one who was nearing death. Those are months we will never get back and losses that will never be made whole. But we can honor those we've lost by working to strengthen our relationships — our families, friends and communities.

Soon it will be time for the State Fair, an event that showcases Minnesota's many communities and interests. Like today's holiday, it will feel like a homecoming. Things are returning to normal. And as usual in this country, "normal" means there's much more to be done.

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