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On Independence Day, remember, America...

On Independence Day, remember, America is still great

By: Russ Latino - July 3, 2024

  • America did not cease to be great at the turn of the 21st Century. We ceased to appreciate its greatness. We can surrender to cynicism or we can be active stewards in realizing the promise of this nation. Destiny is ours to chart.

A horseshoe of buildings looked out on a dusty courtyard. Every morning, the children of North Bay Elementary would stand outside of their classrooms facing an American flag at the center of that courtyard. And every morning, with hands on hearts, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Growing up in the 1980s, patriotism wasn’t optional. America was great. Americans shared a palpable sense of pride and an equally palpable sense of optimism. This was true, even for a poor kid from Hancock County, Mississippi. I believed ours was a country that could accommodate big dreams.

I don’t know the exact moment, but somewhere along the way, America’s unbridled optimism gave way to deep-seated cynicism. Perhaps it was 9/11’s reminder that we are not invulnerable, or a housing crisis that brought into focus the danger of banks “too big to fail.” Maybe it was the 24-hour news cycle that bombarded American living rooms with unending vitriol, or social media that turned us into exhibitionists and envy monsters.

Whatever the case, public discourse became mired in negativity — too many finger pointers and not enough problem solvers. The big dreams of yesterday gave way to self-pity and blame for far too many.

And we forgot. We forgot that we are the nation that shattered a world of kings and queens, birthing a democracy “conceived in liberty.”

We forgot that we tamed wilderness, connected a sprawling country with rail, and invented the modern manufacturing that put a car in every garage. We forgot that we imagined the machines that allowed humans to take flight and put a man on the moon.

We forgot the modern marvel of cities filled with towering skyscrapers and the bountiful harvests of our farmland that all but eradicated hunger. We forgot that we established burgeoning trade and exported a free enterprise system that lifted billions of people out of poverty across the globe. We forgot that we harnessed the near infinite power of the atom and pioneered the kind of lifesaving medicine that allows us to pluck a heart from the chest of a human and replace it.

Our men stormed beaches and liberated people from tyranny. Our women built families and strengthened communities. And our diversity as a people, even our pain as a people, produced beauty. Ours is the melting pot culture that inspired the Creole cuisine of New Orleans and the low-and-slow barbecue of Texas; that gave us storytellers like Twain and Steinbeck, and musicians of the caliber of Armstrong, Ellington, Dylan and Elvis.

“From sea to shining sea,” the splendor and variety of our land cannot be oversold. It’s there in the rural pine trees of Mississippi, in the picturesque hamlets of Vermont, in the “Big Sky” of Montana, the sugar beaches of Florida, the jagged snowcapped mountains of Colorado, and so many stops in between.

America did not cease to be great at the turn of the 21st Century. We ceased to appreciate its greatness. Our focus drawn to our deficiencies and away from our triumphs. Too often, we remember our struggles in a perpetual, self-flagellating loop, while forgetting the feat of overcoming those adversities and the redemption arc that followed.

Forgive me if I sound Pollyainish, but America is great. Not perfect, but great.

We should think better of ourselves. The pace of our innovation has only accelerated. The quality of our lives only improved. In towns across this country, people are working out big ideas that will fundamentally change our future for the better. Ours is the most vibrant economy on the planet and our people the most generous. We are free to worship our God as we see fit, free to share our thoughts and talents, free to try and fail, and then try again, in pursuit of a better life or a higher calling.

Yes, we face unique challenges. But we’ve faced unique challlenges before. Through Civil Wars, World Wars, Great Depressions, and the long, slow fight for equality, ours is not a history of timid defeat, but of bold victory. To expect any less in this moment is a fool’s bet.

Our people are the masters of their own destiny. And if you sign off social media, turn off the anger jocks on television, and go out in the real world, you will see problems, yes, but also abundant goodness. Neighbors helping neighbors. Friends enjoying friends. Memories at the ball fields, and plenty of folks working hard in pursuit of the dream.

John F. Kennedy famously extolled Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” We can surrender to the cynicism, resign ourselves to be spectators of our nation’s decline, or we can be active stewards, watchmen on the wall, of a still great nation.

Happy Independence Day!

About the Author(s)
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Russ Latino

Russ is a proud Mississippian and the founder of Magnolia Tribune Institute. His research and writing have been published across the country in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, The Hill, and The Washington Examiner, among other prominent publications. Russ has served as a national spokesman with outlets like Politico and Bloomberg. He has frequently been called on by both the media and decisionmakers to provide public policy analysis and testimony. In founding Magnolia Tribune Institute, he seeks to build on more than a decade of organizational leadership and communications experience to ensure Mississippians have access to news they can trust and opinion that makes them think deeply. Prior to beginning his non-profit career, Russ practiced business and constitutional law for a decade. Email Russ: