Happy Independence Day, folks!
It is July 4. Two hundred and thirty-nine years ago today, a group of brave and determined men voted to approve a document, written by a young and brilliant Virginian, which declared the thirteen British colonies hugging the eastern coast of North America to be an independent nation. That day in Philadelphia is rightfully seen as our country's birthday.
Now, we spend a lot of time talking about what's wrong with our country and it is true that we have our fair share of problems. Yet on Independence Day, I think it's healthy to stop thinking about those things that trouble us about our country and consider instead what we love about it. So, here goes.
I love the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I love the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and the hundreds of beautiful letters that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote to one another in retirement. I love the journals of Lewis and Clark. I love Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address. I love the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. I love FDR's "Four Freedoms" speech, MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech, and the speech JFK gave at Rice University in which he declared that America chose to go to the Moon.
I love Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott and Edgar Allan Poe. I love Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I love the poetry of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost. I love The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
I love the Statue of Liberty (thanks, France!), the Liberty Bell, and Mount Rushmore. I love bald eagles and American bison. I love Mount Vernon and Monticello. I love the monuments and memorials around the National Mall in Washington D.C. I love the USS Constitution - "Old Ironsides" - launched in 1797 and still officially a commissioned warship in the United States Navy. I love the Space Needle in Seattle, the Empire State Building in New York City, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I love the Art Deco architecture of Miami. I love the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the thousands of small bridges one passes over while driving the back roads of our vast nation.
I love the cultural institutions of New York City: the Met Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Hayden Planetarium, and the musicals of Broadway. I love the museums of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.: the National Air and Space Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of American History. I love the Boston Aquarium, the San Diego Zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. I love the Library of Congress.
I love the National Parks: Yellowstone, the Everglades, Yosemite, Acadia, Bryce Canyon, and all the rest. I love the national battlefields: Saratoga, Yorktown, Antietam, Gettysburg, and all the rest. I love Carlsbad Caverns and Mammoth Cave. I love the carefully preserved homes of historical figures and sites of historical events. I love the haunting stillness one can feel amid the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park and Bandelier National Monument. I love the way the wind howls through "The Window" at Big Bend National Park.
I love NASA. I love the rovers wandering the surface of Mars, the Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn, and the plucky little New Horizons spacecraft that will fly past Pluto in just over a week. I love the two Voyager probes, still functioning decades after being launched and embarking on their lonely journey into the vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy. I love the beautiful photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. I love the fact that the United States was the first nation to land human beings on the surface of another world (why aren't we sending anybody these days?).
I love Texas barbecue more than words can express. I love the breakfast tacos of Austin. I love locally brewed beer and locally distilled spirits in cities and towns all across this bountiful country. I love the overpriced hot dogs and pretzels at baseball stadiums. I love corny dogs at the Texas State Fair. I love the cabernet sauvignons of Napa and Sonoma County and the pinot noirs of Oregon and Washington. I love New York pizza and Massachusetts haddock. I love cheddar cheese from Vermont and colby cheese from Wisconsin. I love the Steak Dunigan made at the Pink Adobe restaurant in Sante Fe. I love Boston cream pie and I love s'mores around the campfire. I love those Cuban sandwiches you can order in Florida restaurants. I love Kentucky bourbon. I love the grits, catfish, fried okra, and pecan pie of the South. I love coffee, bacon, eggs, and hash browns served at dingy highway diners by sarcastic old waitresses who reek of cigarettes.
I love New Orleans jazz, Memphis blues and the indie rock of the Pacific Northwest. I love the bluegrass of the Appalachian Mountains, the Creole music of southern Louisiana, and the amazing music that comes out of my own beloved Austin. I love country stars singing patriotic music. I love the singing of James Taylor and Bing Crosby, the guitar of B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and the trumpets of Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. I love the beautiful voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday. I love the classical compositions of Aaron Copeland and John Philip Sousa. I love the haunting music that can be produced by the Native American flute.
I love silly American traditions. I love that the Le Pavillion Hotel in New Orleans serves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with ice-cold milk in the lobby every evening at ten o'clock. I love the singing of Sweet Caroline by Red Sox fans at Fenway Park in the middle of the eighth inning every game. I love the daily duck parade between the elevator and the lobby fountain at the Peabody in Memphis. I love the different drinks and different theme songs for each of the Triple Crown horse races. I love the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil from Gobbler's Knob on Groundhog Day. I loved the Poe Toaster, wonder what happened to him, and still hope he comes back.
I love the goalkeeping of Tim Howard, the swimming of Michael Phelps, and the gymnastic grace of the Fierce Five. I love both the men's and women's national soccer teams, as well as the incredible enthusiasm of the American Outlaws that support them (I believe that we will win against Japan tomorrow!). I love the speed of American Pharoah. Whenever the Olympics rolls around, I love to see great athletes of the United States stand on the victory podium as they are presented with their medals to the sound of the Star Spangled Banner.
I love the mystique of the Golden Age of Hollywood: Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, John Wayne. I love old Frank Capra movies, especially Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I love the movies Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together. I love Frank Sinatra. I love the script-writing of Aaron Sorkin, the documentaries of Ken Burns, the acting of Tom Hanks, and the films of Steven Spielberg. I love watching the Academy Awards.
I love liberals, conservatives, and libertarians - all equally American. I love freedom of expression, and I don't much mind that it means that people can express opinions with which I disagree and which I might even find repugnant. I love that I can stand on any street corner and denounce the governor of my state or even the president of my country and not fear arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, or execution. I love freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, which allow me to worship God as I choose, and I don't much mind that it means people can practice religions different from my own or choose not to practice any religion at all. I love that I can go into a voting booth and cast my ballot for whomever I wish.
I love the men and women who have served or are serving in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and Marines. I love the grizzled old veterans of the Second World War, who helped rid the world of fascism. I love SEAL Team Six, who took out Osama bin Laden on an epic night in the spring of 2011. I love the 1st Battalion, 5th United States Field Artillery, formed by Alexander Hamilton in 1776 and today the oldest continuously serving unit in the United States armed forces, with battle honors stretching from the Revolutionary War to the modern campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. I love the men and women of every battalion, every ship, and every squadron who put their lives on the line every day to protect everything else I've written about in this piece.
I could go on and on and on, but I think the point I'm trying to make is pretty clear.
I love America.