On this July 4, a reflection upon U.S.’s progress

We’re feeling introspective this Independence Day. Certainly, we’re excited for the community parades and events and the fireworks displays after dark. (Hopefully our introspection is the only rain on your parade today.) After all, the Fourth of July is essentially America’s birthday, and birthdays are joyous celebrations.

However, birthdays can also be a time for reflection, especially as we get older, and today’s forecasted thunderstorms have us reflecting on the United States’ tumultuous history.

Our country was founded in conflict. From the conflicts that drove European settlers to America’s shores, to the conflicts between Indigenous Americans and settlers, to the conflicts between colonists and their overseas overlords, to the conflicts over slavery that cleaved the nation in two, to the conflicts over rights for Black people, women, immigrants and LGBTQ+ people that are still ongoing today. And those are just what immediately come to mind.

Most (though not all) of that conflict ultimately laid the foundation for a brighter future. And that has been the promise of America from the moment our Founding Fathers declared independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The same aspirational language is reflected in the preamble to the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …”

America, at its core, is a promise to current and future generations to always be better and do better. Striving for better, however, means acknowledging that we are not perfect, nor have we been perfect. In order to continue our founders’ quest, we must acknowledge that we, as a country, have not always lived up to our lofty goals.

That is, in part, because there has always been a push and pull at work in our nation: Progress, followed by regression. After the Civil War, for example, there was Jim Crow. We are in one of those eras now: In the late 1900s and early 2000s, we made great strides in civil rights, women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ individuals’ personal and legal rights. And now we are experiencing the pushback — the conflict.

Our country’s history, though — and the aspirations built into the very core of our democracy — indicate that despite any steps backward we may take, we will continue to push forward and pursue the promise of a more perfect union that respects and upholds our unalienable rights.

So today we celebrate America’s 248th birthday, all the progress we have made since the Declaration of Independence was written and all the progress we know we will continue to make, even if we must fight for it every step of the way.