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America is an idea not a blessing

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 21, 2020 a US flag flies at half-mast in front of the Skyline of Manhattan of New York City seen from Weehawken, New Jersey. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP)

Just before this month of July comes to an end, I think it is worthy and beneficial to spend some of our precious time to ponder on a recurrent event that took place this month; on the 4th of July to be precise.

Yes, you got it: American Independence Day. Apologies and commiserations to those whose birthday, wedding, or other personal or corporate anniversaries fall on that same day, you stand no chance now and in the foreseeable future. The American Independence Day celebration is the day that every July 4th steals the headline and will continue to do so for the conceivable future.

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By 9 am (GMT) on that day, direct congratulatory messages had been sent by heads of 191 countries to the USA, that is practically all the countries in the world, yes some because beholden, others because they admire and some just in a robotic way and for the form. As you must have observed, practically all news outlets in the world made mention of the American Independence Day event, some to reflect on, some to praise, others to criticise America.

Offshore, another important element worthy of consideration is how Americans celebrate the 4th of July. Americans celebrate their Independence Day as a private, communal and religious ritual with picnics, banquets and parties where symbols, images, recipes and sounds unique to that day are displayed and shared to commemorate a day they celebrate like Christmas and New Year.

This private dimension is important and it becomes defining when we think of and compare the American way to how citizens of other countries celebrate their independence or similar days. Ten days later, on 14th July in France like most parts of the world, Independence or National Day is a state affair, government at all levels are the host and organizers of events, individuals are merely guests and consumers of the show.

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Even the simplest of Americans understand and celebrate their uniqueness. They celebrate their strength of today, achievements of yesterday, and the possible glory of tomorrow, a possibility made hope not faith by the certitude that their personal dreams can still come true and that those that guide American affairs will not let the American dream die.

Those Americans more inclined to reflect, observe and rejoice on the 4th of July that the USA is one country on this planet that is born out of and thrives on the idea that individuals can create a paradise on earth tagged “the land of opportunity”. They marvel at the idea of being the first nation in the world whereby choice not by birth one can decide to become someone new and part of something new and great: American. They cherish the thought of the idea that all their founding fathers on principle and most of their ancestors out of need and hope found the courage to reject their old world in which they were born to seek a new world and to become someone new in somewhere new.

Once Americans have decided to become Americans, their first choice then and overriding mantra till today is the decision to curtail power. Though their president is the most powerful figure in the world, they make sure that no president is strong enough to impose his whim or ways on the weakest of them. They decided to make the word and concept of freedom one of their most cherished ones. In the name of that decision, they defend practices that elsewhere appear bizarre and even dangerous.

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Though brought and bonded together by the choice to be one people united by freedom and dreams, in their living together Americans also decided to accept that they are different people. To maintain and protect their differences, they decided on a true federal system of government wherein each state is allowed to grow and operate at its own pace and style. From their architecture to businesses, from food and drinks to religion and their laws, each region and even each state differs from one to the other. Even within the USA, individuals still get a chance to reinvent themselves, they still get to try new cultures and become something new by choice.

Offshore, we must not miss noting that in the USA, society is stronger than the state. It is people in form of associations, businesses and individuals that shape government through elections and continuous interaction, not the other way round. The strength and importance Americans decided to confer to and defend for their press and legislators stems from their duty and privilege of representing the voice and wishes of the people in contraposition to the government. Each time a legislator speaks or votes he or she does so not for a vague or general America but for a concrete constituency that is part of the whole and that has its unique and precise ways and wishes.

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The accepted major strength and superior position of people and society over government and state in the USA have opened the American system to possible manipulations and abuse by a savvier and stronger few that sometimes take advantage of the many unorganized and uniformed through misinformation, lobbying and finance. Rather than suppress, America has decided to take the risk of letting each group and individual blossom and work towards making more people become informed and organized hoping that every year and continuously the country will move towards a more perfect union.

Offshore, America is also the land with the history of slavery and modern chronicles jaw dropping racism, shocking bigotry and amazing inequality but Americans have decided to bet on the decision to continuously improve and rather than suppress or destroy what they have built and makes them so great.

Kila is centre director at Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS), Lagos.

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