Fear, chaos, and the American soul: Remembering what July 4 stands for

The American soul is taking a beating.

Caryn Sullivan

For generations, America has been a beacon for men, women, and children from around the world who followed the rules so they could live in the land of the free, the home of the brave.

Their stories reflect a yearning for a better life than what they had in their native countries.

Their stories reflect fortitude and sacrifice and loss in the pursuit of something better.

Minnesota is home to many who have such a story. Alpha News journalist Pafoua Yang is one of them.

Pafoua Yang/Alpha News

Yang’s family fled Laos in 1982 and relocated in a refugee camp in Thailand, where they remained until 1990. They relocated to Ohio but eventually settled in Wausau, Wisconsin, in 1991.

“America, to me, is the best country in the world,” she says.

“My parents and grandparents went through hell and back to get here, losing dozens of family members on the way, suffering from terror, pain and trauma, and then on top of that having to survive in a country they didn’t know anything about.”

“We grew up extremely poor. Sometimes we’d go a couple of weeks without electricity and water — of course things I never told my friends at school because I felt embarrassed about it. But we made it through. Even at our poorest in America, we still had way more than those living in our motherland.”

“It’s rare for me to hear my parents’ generation complain about America because they are just so thankful to be here.”

But even children of immigrants can take freedom for granted.

“A lot of us first generation kids didn’t go through what our elders did and so we feel entitled to have all these rights,” she says. “Nothing wrong with fighting for more rights, but when you’re so consumed in all the negatives, it takes away from how truly fortunate we are as Americans.”

But do those of us who were born here appreciate our good fortune?

This past weekend’s activities illustrate the bi-polar state of our country.

There were boat parades and barbecues, fireworks, and fun.

But there was also murder and mayhem in suburban Illinois, Minneapolis, and around the country as criminals terrorized families who just wanted to enjoy the day.

The American soul is taking a beating. To survive a pandemic, we surrendered individual liberty for the greater good as we endured masking, mandates, and lockdowns.

Simultaneously, a loud and organized effort to effect transformative change picked up steam.

The road to the desired outcome is straight through the pillars that have been foundational for hundreds of years: faith, family, and country foremost among them.

We’re seeing the ramifications of all the pressures.

Shootings, suicides, and verbal shoot-outs on social media.

In an era when feelings trump facts, it’s as if our collective brains dropped out of our heads with a giant kerplunk.

We can’t have civil conversations about important but emotionally volatile issues.

Instead of raising a glass on July 4th, celebrities raised their middle fingers on Twitter to display disgust and dismay over the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding abortion.

Everyone’s favorite loudmouth, Michael Moore, is threatening to leave the U.S. once again.

Ironically, though we’re experiencing an epidemic of fear and chaos, millions still trek to our southern border to escape countries so oppressive they could no longer endure living there.

We’re losing our way. We’re forgetting that what distinguishes us from other countries is our ability to use our voices to effect change.

That we continue to enjoy these freedoms is the reason we celebrate July 4.

If you’re concerned about abortion rights, school choice, or crime, get involved. Not by harassing elected or appointed officials outside their homes or throwing Molotov cocktails at cops. But by supporting a candidate who is running for office; hosting a fundraiser; hoisting yard signs; or writing letters to the editor.

If you have the intestinal fortitude, you can even run for office.


Caryn Sullivan
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A retired attorney and author of the award-winning memoir, "Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page," Caryn Sullivan has inspired readers with her thoughtful commentary for the past two decades. To learn more about Caryn’s work or to connect, visit carynmsullivan.com