Freedom's Birthday

It's coming on the Fourth of July. I'm thinking about my country as I hang my laundry on the clothesline. The sun is hot on my back and I need a nap. It would be much easier to throw the clothes in the dryer. But my wife is making us all commit to using less electricity. I am complying with mixed feelings.

I love my country. And I plan on telling my daughter, Molly, what I love about it when we go watch the fireworks. I love the freedoms, especially the freedom of speech. I love the right we have to vote for our leaders. And I love the civil rights we enjoy, which hold the great diversity of our citizens as equal under the law.

As a child I felt great pride in being an American. I remember in grade school holding my hand over my heart and reciting the pledge of allegiance in unison. I felt that I was part of a nation that was a model for the world. I wish I could encourage that same sense of patriotism in my daughter. On the other hand, I do not want to set her up for the disillusionment I later suffered.

The first blow to my naive pride was the Viet Nam War. Since then, a long deepening awareness of our nation's politics have continued to sour my respect for our government.

As my attitude has grown more cynical it has been difficult to celebrate the fourth of July with sincerity. I have come to take our beloved freedoms for granted, without appreciating them fully, or adequately respecting our forebears for securing them.

Molly, at age eight, however, is too young to understand my sophisticated analysis of the demise of true democracy in the USA. She is just learning the basic principles of freedom, justice, and equality. So I am trying to keep my cynicism in check for now, as we celebrate the birthday of freedom in this country.

But there is one point I would like to make to those of you who share my ambivalence about being proud to be an American. It seems that in our love of our freedoms we have embraced a bad apple that is spoiling the whole bunch. I call it the "freedom of greed", the unbridled pursuit of wealth, without a sense of responsibility to the common good.

Our nation has sanctioned a huge concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. The richest 1% of our population now control 40% of our nation's wealth. The top 10% control 71% of the wealth. This allows the very wealthy to determine which candidates can raise enough money to run for public office. The very wealthy have also consolidated ownership of almost all of the major media, undermining our access to alternative viewpoints. These are just two of the most basic ways that gross economic inequality threatens all our other freedoms.

We see the effect of the freedom of greed when:

  • The US refuses to follow the Kyoto agreement on global warming, claiming that expanding our own economy is more important than cooperating with other countries to manage the global ecosystem.
  • Congress fails again to pass meaningful campaign finance reform.
  • World trade laws written by corporate leaders subvert citizen's rights to protect workers and the environment.
  • President Bush allows power wholesalers to manipulate supply and overcharge California nine billion dollars before consenting to federal price caps that immediately solve the crisis. (Just think what that nine billion could have done for California schools!)

So as I save electricity by hanging my laundry on the line, I am thinking of bigger changes I would like to see in this country. Perhaps someday we will come to a consensus on the need to limit greed. Perhaps we will understand that no one is served by a system that allows individuals to become billionaires, and corporations to have more rights than communities of people.

Back in 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote about the truths people then found to be self-evident. It's a good list. But maybe there are a few more truths we need to include.

© 2010, Tim Hartnett

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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