The vehicles are in the driveway, parked in front of a two-car garage. Both the SUV and the hybrid sedan boast statements of identity, an OBAMA BIDEN bumper sticker and a HILLARY FOR PRESIDENT bumper sticker.
A couple of houses down, two vehicles are parked in front of a two-car garage. Both boast statements of identity, a TRUMP PENCE bumper sticker and a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN bumper sticker.
This is a community of like-minded architecture. Drive home slightly inebriated from the office party and you easily might turn your key in the wrong lock. Since you are good neighbors, you can laugh about this the next day. Politics don’t affect your friendship. Sometimes you say, “Ideologies don’t separate us.” The forces that unite you are more important than what divides. The neighborhood. You share the same neighborhood.
You do agree more than you disagree. Particularly about patriotism. You are Americans.
And it’s the 4th of July. Your heart pumps with pride. Your polo shirt is adorned with the faces carved into Mount Rushmore’s stone. The shirt further is decorated with the image of an American eagle, stars and stripes. Your wife’s dangling American flag earrings sparkle.
Great design—the vast park in the center of the community, houses curled around the perimeter. Fun for the children and grandchildren. On July 4th, you’re treated to a display as spectacular as any offered by a city. If there were a firework extravaganza contest, your community’s would take the red, white, and blue ribbon.
The grill’s coals have burned nearly to ash. Each of you is stuffed after piling your plate with barbequed chicken, hotdogs, baked beans, and potato salad, washed down with beer, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir and a variety of colas for the kids.
Almost time for the talent. Lee Greenwood’s rendition of God Bless the U.S.A. erupts. God Bless the United States of America. Here, sing along:
If tomorrow all the things were gone
I’d worked for all my life
And I had to start again
With just my children and my wife
I’d thank my lucky stars
To be living here today
Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away
And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I gladly stand up
Next to you and defend her still today
Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA
Oh. My. God. You have goose bumps. Suddenly colors explode through the dark of night. Greenwood’s still singing. Another BOOM. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.
“I’m grateful to God for this,” someone says.
“For this country, this neighborhood, family, friendship.”
No one says anything though about the BOOMBOOMBOOM of war. No one thinks about the MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat, that the U.S. military dropped in Afghanistan on April 13. Or the missile strikes in Syria. Or the weapons sold to the Saudis by the United States for war in Yemen. Or that euphemism, collateral damage.
In the United States on the 4th of July, explosions in air elicit, well, a feeling of superiority, exceptionalism. Awe. Nobody mentions Iraq and that initial assault called Shock and Awe. In the United States on the 4th of July, propaganda is ritualized.
Nobody at the observances across the country says a word about what it must be like to live torn by war where a flash and BOOM signals grabbing your children and searching for safety. Nobody says someday Russia or China or North Korea will grow weary of U.S. bullying. That a BOOM no longer would be pageantry but instead mushroom clouds, nuclear annihilation, mutually assured destruction.
If tomorrow all the things were gone, I’d worked for all my life . . .
Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.