Surrounded by family and friends, we sat under a shelter at the nearby pebble beach eating spaghetti, chicken, and crabs. Together we discussed the state of the world, poked fun at each other and laughed until we cried. We also consumed all the wine we could swallow. And the kids, squealing with delight, stripped to their shorts for long vigorous larks in the sleek sultry sea.
The only thing missing was the fireworks.
That’s because we were in the Philippines where American Independence Day isn’t a holiday, certainly not one greeted by fire. And so we enjoyed the day with the Filipinos in our lives kind enough to celebrate a foreign event with the only Americans in theirs. And the irony was that we probably experienced a more traditional Fourth here than they did in California where the raging pandemic has closed beaches and cancelled firework displays.
But there was another irony as well, one that had been driven home to me earlier in the day as I listened to a televised speech by President Trump at Mount Rushmore, an iconic national monument in the state of South Dakota. “We gather tonight to herald the most important day in the [nation’s] history,” Trump said. “Our founders launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity.”
And yet, he went on, “there is a new far-left fascism…designed to overthrow the American Revolution” by tearing down “every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage. We want a free and open debate,” Trump added, “not speech codes and cancel culture. We embrace tolerance, not prejudice. My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly” to “defend the integrity of our country.”
Almost immediately, as if to underscore his point, the venerable New York Times – often accused of leaning far left – had dismissed the President’s message as “a dark and divisive speech” aimed at bolstering his “struggling re-election effort.”
As anyone who’s read my previous writings knows, I have never been an avid waver of the American – or any other – flag. The truth is that I didn’t even vote for Trump in 2016. That said, however, I must admit that, like many Americans, I have recently watched in horror as mobs of rioters – rallying behind the banner of Black Lives Matter – wantonly destroyed national monuments, burned down police stations, seized entire sections of cities and demanded the defunding of police.
What’s particularly disturbing is that much of this has occurred directly under the noses of consenting public officials, supportive celebrities, purposely emasculated law enforcement agencies and a timid National Guard. In the days leading up to the recent holiday, in fact, some protestors even had the temerity to suggest that the national anthem and Independence Day itself be banned as “antiquated vestiges of white supremacy.”
Now I have never been one to deny that racism still exists; only a fool would claim otherwise. But I don’t believe it’s systemic. And I am utterly convinced that America has done more to combat it than practically any nation on earth; has little tolerance for it now; and, until recently anyway, harbored a racial landscape that was slowly improving. Bottom line: while there are definite blemishes on my native country’s past – and slavery is certainly a big one – America has, in sum total, brought more goodness to the world than evil. And that this is largely due to the founding principles we celebrate each year in July.
“America is a complex country,” Fr. Leo Pabayo recently wrote in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily. “It is both brutal and kind.” Preferring to perpetuate the kindness, we went to the beach with our friends.
The weather was perfect; warm and balmy, yet not too humid. The gentle sound of water lapping on the shore marked the barely perceptible passage of time. And though reclining thousands of kilometers from the land of my birth, we christened the sand with a tiny red-white-and-blue standard to stay focused on why we had come.
“Daddy, what’s the Fourth of July really about anyway?” asked my sinewy son, who’s spent 2 of his 9 years in Southeast Asia.
“Why, It’s America’s birthday,” I replied, raising my voice in exaggerated gleefulness to drive the point home. “Happy birthday, America!”
And so we ate cake.
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Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily
David Haldane is the author of an award-winning memoir called “Nazis & Nudists.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an American journalist, essayist, and broadcaster whose radio work was awarded a 2018 Golden Mike by the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California. He currently lives in Northern Mindanao, Philippines, with his Filipino wife and their two children. http:///felixr28.sg-host.com