July 4 is one that while an American celebration is one that heralded the culmination of the enlightenment into political institutions, and to bind ideas of liberty and freedom within the social fabric. It was such a cause that even people on the other side of the pond now (as indeed people did when the original Declaration was written) could appreciate what was at stake – the battle of ideas, as much as the battle of a people. If not the birth of these ideas it was the growing pains of emerging from a superstitious age of viewing the world and our place.
So from 1776 to 2008 we have President George W. Bush at Jefferson’s House as people from 30 nations become citizens of a nation that, loved or hated, is the lone colossus of the world stage leaving others in it’s shadow. Not all approve of the darkness cast as the link shows when Bush was heckled, over fascism and Iraq.
To my mind that was the wrong setting for protests. It was the right location and ceremony for a President to be, on a day to celebrate the birth of a nation and to reaffirm what the USA is founded on. Free speech being one of them, a put down that at the same time reaffirms ideals that Zimbabweans can only hope would come at the price that it did for the American protesters.
It is difficult to argue that fighting for these ideals 232 years ago, with both foreign and domestic enemies during its brief history, means that the USA should sacrifice the blood of it’s children and wealth to give freedom to other nations. These struggles are inherently one for the people so affected to fight first and foremost. Yet when they do so the world should support them because we recognize that these values are one essential for the human condition to live life to the full – the recognition that people are an ends in themselves and not a means to a supposedly higher goal, whether the whims of a tyrant, creating a kingdom of heaven on earth, or a cog in a wheel of utopia. The extent of that support, there lies the rub, and one that free citizens should exercise mindful of the liberty they have to choose was not born alone.
The extent of independence in an ever interconnected world is another issue. Jefferson was wary of entanglements with other nations, and yet world problems require world solutions. Looking only within your own shores to protect the self interest of a nation has never been the optimum position in the global era.
The next President will have these issues to grapple with; their view of history and vision of the USA in the world will be a factor in how they behave as rational actors not only on the world stage. In the court of public opinion a change of face will be greeted sympathetically by the world but actions rather than words will be the litmus test. But for Americans perhaps there is no better test then to see how their country measures up to the aspirations of 56 signatures over 200 years ago.