ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the months after 9/11, we still turned our wary, weary eyes to the skies in fear that another plane hijacked by hate was headed our way.
We also turned to one another.
We were all Americans, unified, unabashedly patriotic and proud that we had withstood the worst that evil could throw at us.
We proudly, almost defiantly flew our flags from our porches and our pickups. Our eyes teared up when the national anthem played, as if we had never appreciated the significance of those words until then.
I painted flags on T-shirts for each of my children. Wear these with pride, I told them. We are Americans.
The Fourth of July after that felt different, too, bigger than hot dogs and parades and fireworks because of what this country, what we, had endured. We revered the revolutionaries and the resisters of 1776 who fought for our independence and the soldiers who continued that fight.
So here we are again at another Fourth of July – the 242nd one since declaring our independence – and the unity of those post-9/11 days seems as dim as a dud firecracker hurled down a deep, dark, dystopian abyss.
We no longer turn to one another; we’ve turned on one another.
“Celebrating the Fourth this year feels like throwing a birthday party for someone who has been kidnapped,” my friend Leanne Potts said.
We are living in a time when it seems nearly impossible to keep up with the latest outrage, when truth to some is “fake news” to others, when the foundation of what makes our country work – or not work, depending on what side you sit on – is in upheaval.
“I was at the store, and a woman was looking at Fourth decorations. She said out loud while reading a sign, ‘Land of the Free – that’s losing its meaning more every day now, isn’t it?’ I said, ‘Yes, it is,’ ” Erika Tyler Vogel recalled. “I can’t get that out of my head.”
We are snowflakes and deplorables now. We have a Congress that has perfected the art of aggressive indolence and a president who when asked this week what he could say to bring the nation together warned the “other side” to take it easy on his “incredible” base, which he boasted was greater than any other in history.
It’s a time when both sides likely agree on only one thing – that the other side has hijacked the country by hate.
“What feels different is the constant question and doubt swirling around as to one’s patriotism,” Lori De Anda said. “If you disagree politically with someone, your patriotism is immediately questioned. I don’t personally know a single person who isn’t proud to be an American. But I know plenty who aren’t proud of how some Americans behave.”
For the first time in 18 years since Gallup pollsters began asking us to describe how proud we are to be Americans, fewer than half of us – 47 percent – describe ourselves as being “extremely proud.” That’s the lowest that number has ever been, down from highs of 65 percent and 70 percent in the years after 9/11 and 58 percent after the election of President Obama.
Republicans are far more likely to describe themselves as being extremely proud to be an American – 74 percent, compared with 32 percent of Democrats. Other polls also reveal a vast canyon between the parties as to the contentment of this American life and this American president.
That has led to a lot of incivility and a lot of civil disobedience seeping off the pages of social media into the streets, restaurants and neighborhoods.
“This is the first Fourth of July that I have actually hesitated who to celebrate with due to conflict over political beliefs that are so oppositional,” Charlotte Kenyon Mullins said. “People are so angry it is interrupting everyday lives.”
America is in strange times, split between those who love the chaos and those repelled by it.
But on this important day in our history, consider that our fellow Americans who speak out with fact and fervor on what they believe in, who mobilize, march peacefully, attend rallies, run for office or vote are not all that different from the revolutionaries and resisters of 1776.
America has always been a nation of change and upheaval and revolution. It’s not always been pretty or harmonious. As Thomas Paine, one of those 1776 revolutionaries, opined, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
And so we go on, weary, wary, American.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.