My 7-year-old Blaise is obsessed with the Revolutionary War. He loves learning about America’s fight for freedom and liberty. He especially adores George Washington, who, he will tell you, paid his own money to outfit his men. He also loves the Marquis de Lafayette, who came to America despite the orders of the French king, and wanted nothing more than to fight for liberty and equality. He paid his own way.
My son recently went to Yorktown, where the Continental Army fought its (nearly) final, decisive battle against the British. There, he found a cannon Lafayette had not only captured, but on his return to the United States in the 1800s, recognized and hugged. Blaise couldn't believe it. He was touching a cannon that the Marquis de Lafayette, freedom fighter, leader of troops, had actually hugged. He burst into tears.
This is America. And that is why this 4th of July, despite our incredibly polarized political climate, I'm still so proud to be an American.
Amidst President Donald Trump's outrageous tweets and immigration bans, amidst the talk of his alleged Russian ties and his draconian healthcare legislation, we forget that this is America, and that America still had this special brand of magic — the type of magic that can make a small boy weep over Lafayette’s cannon. I am proud of this America: the America of our forefathers, of Continental soldiers dreaming of freedom, of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down).” I am proud to share this with my children. I taught them how to sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in my own off-key voice in our living room. Now they can kick up a rousing chorus.
My sons deserve to love their country. Not because of Trump. But in spite of him.
In the light of Trump's election, a lot of us are losing faith in our country. How could the land of the free and the home of the brave elect a man so bigoted and cowardly? For some of us, it's easy for the Fourth of July to ring hollow, to seem like nothing but a spectacle of fireworks and flags and empty patriotism. But patriotism does not exclusively belong to the right. My sons deserve to love their country. Not because of Trump. But in spite of him.
My sons learned “The World Turned Upside Down," the account of the historic Battle of Yorktown, from Hamilton. We love Hamilton in our house. The musical is the saga of an immigrant who rose from poverty to become not only Washington’s most trusted aide, but the first Secretary of the Treasury. This is the America I want them to believe in: the America that welcomes an immigrant, that helps him succeed, that’s proud to call him a son. I believe this America still exists. I know that because I saw the people who believe in this America pack airports to protest the Muslim ban. I saw them show up at rallies. We are many. We are strong.
This Fourth of July, we cannot let our celebration of America be affected by the actions of Donald Trump. When we do that, we lose ourselves. We lose our identity as Americans.
I teach my children this, and I teach them about the thousands of American artists Trump can’t take from us. He cannot take The Beach Boys. He can’t have Johnny Cash and Meryl Haggard. He can’t have Bruce Springsteen or Elvis or Aretha Franklin. He can’t have Duke Ellington or The Supremes; he can’t take away Tupac or Biggie. He can’t have Beyonce. I give them to my children like presents. I teach them about rock and roll; it is my gift to them. I teach them Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, because I need to believe that myself. And I want them to believe it, too.
This Fourth of July, we cannot let our celebration of America be affected by Donald Trump. When we do that, we lose ourselves. We lose our identity as Americans. We forget our heroes: our Harriet Tubmans, our Sojourner Truths; our Franklin Roosevelts and Abraham Lincolns. We forget that we walked on the moon, that we stepped from a boat onto Ellis Island and into a life unknown. This is what I tell my children. This is how I raise them in Trump’s America.
On the Fourth of July, my children will wear special red-white-and-blue outfits. They'll get snap-pop fireworks for the asking. On that special holiday, the day, Blaise will tell you, that Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was finally approved, the day that the United States became one nation, we will deck their bikes out in flags and buntings and streamers, and my kids will pedal in a parade down a small town’s main street. Donald Trump will change none of our joy. He is not invited to our barbecue. We will spend the holiday talking about real American greatness: the generosity of spirit of Washington and Lafayette. The wonder of our art. The miracles of our heroes. This is our America. This is where our magic lies. And I teach my children to believe in it.