Last Fourth of July, like so many others I shared images of fireworks and summer memories on social media. For me, the Fourth evokes Michigan memories with friends and families. Eating watermelon on the beach. Fireworks reflecting in the lake. Summers filled with celebrations. It was always a holiday filled with love, excitement and patriotism—and those traditions of fireworks, flag waving and family gatherings have been passed on to my children.
I think back to Fourth of July celebrations 20+ years ago, when my kids were about three and five and fireworks incited their life-saving hugs around my neck. They hung on for the security and safety only a parent can provide during loud booms and sudden flashes.
I loved it all. No one is a bigger Fourth of July fan than I am. However, what we know now is that love and patriotism are not enough to sustain our amazing country. Not unlike a dysfunctional family, the U.S. suffers from many complicated problems. And, not unlike the loyalty we show for our own families, we often overlook the country’s dysfunction in the name of love and patriotism.
But we all can see the reality. Fireworks and flag-waving cannot obscure the fact that as a country we are in a serious situation.
As someone who has frequently gathered unlikely thinkers around the table, I know we all—well, most of us—want the same things. Most of us would like to see all of America’s children free from worrying about their next meal or a roof overhead. We all want a country where the color of one’s skin does not determine the quality of health care and education available.
Unfortunately, in my lifetime I have never seen our country in worse shape, with widespread suffering, disease, loss of life and economic hardship. Evidence-based science and medicine are being ignored, increasing the country’s peril. Inequities and injustices are rampant in the areas of health, education, the environment and the economy, especially for Black people.
In the area of health alone, Black people have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease than white people—and some studies indicate that black children have a stunning 500% higher death rate from asthma than white children. Black people are contracting Covid-19 and dying from it at an alarmingly disproportionate rate.
Yes, we can continue to love our country and be patriotic, but we must become better at taking care of all of our citizens. In every community and organization, we must seek leaders with conscience—leaders with hearts, who understand and advocate for all of humanity, not just some.
We all hear platitudes about kindness, but good wishes are not the solution. This country needs action. As Americans we cannot allow the cataclysmic, unsecured public health crisis to continue. We cannot tolerate a situation in which there is only health care for some Americans, not all. We cannot be idle as deepening poverty leads to increasing homelessness, hunger and sickness. We cannot be a country that addresses our immigration challenges by dividing families and caging children.
This is not who we are.
As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
We need to be that country again.