United we stand for a strong USA

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Editor’s note: In what has become a Fourth of July holiday tradition, we’re reprinting one of this newspaper’s most popular editorials. This is the 16th anniversary of its first publication.

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The signs of Independence Day are all around us. From grocery stores running short on hot dog buns to fireworks stands peddling a plethora of pyrotechnics, the sense of celebration is building.

The Fourth of July is a liberating holiday, a thorough basking in the warmth of summer and belief that on this foundation of a great nation, tomorrow will be even better than today.

It’s a look back with respect and even reverence to the great men who built the framework of America. Through the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, these leaders fashioned guideposts for a future that they were inspired to envision.

But Independence Day is more than a time for reflection. It’s a time to assess where we are on the path of freedom and engage in some serious envisioning ourselves. It’s not about America so much as it is about Americans.

When you enjoy the parade on Sherman Avenue or fireworks wherever you are, please take a moment to look at the people around you. Chances are you’ll see them in all varieties, from all backgrounds and beliefs.

Much has been made in recent years about embracing diversity, understanding that our differences are not threatening, but quite to the contrary, can make us stronger as a unit.

We agree with that perspective. But we also heed the wise words of those who caution us against dwelling exclusively on that which makes us different. Taken to extremes, this latter model has led to race riots, alienation and rampant discrimination.

If we are to march forward as the world’s greatest nation, we believe we must do so focusing more on what we have in common than the things that make us different.

The late U.S. historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Arthur Schlesinger Jr. extolled the virtues of uniting in our commonalities, rather than focusing on our differences. A prominent lecturer at universities around the country, Schlesinger was often assailed for turning a perceived cold shoulder toward ethnic and religious diversity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Schlesinger respected where each of us comes from and why we’ve decided to believe what we believe, but he also understood that too much emphasis on our differences would continue to divide our nation. In other words, the greatest threat to a unified America can only come from within.

So when you’re standing along the parade route or even in the grocery store, certainly pay attention to those things that make every one of us unique. But remember, too, that we’re all Americans, and in that glorious togetherness we may remain indivisible.

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